Chinese scientists discover new strategic mineral crucial for high-tech components
Published: Oct 06, 2023 07:59 PM
The backscattered electron image of Niobobaotite Photo: Screenshot from China National Nuclear Corp

The backscattered electron image of Niobobaotite Photo: Screenshot from China National Nuclear Corp

China National Nuclear Corp announced on Thursday that a key strategic mineral named Niobobaotite was discovered by three Chinese scientists. It is the 13th new mineral discovered in the past 70 years since the establishment of China's uranium geology system, and has great application and economic potential. 

Discovered by researchers Ge Xiangkun, Fan Guang and Li Ting, Niobobaotite received official recognition from the Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification of the International Mineralogical Association, numbered IMA 2022-127a.

Niobobaotite is a strategic mineral with wide application potential and strong economic effect, especially in the military and high-tech sectors, Wu Chenhui, an independent industry analyst who closely follows the rare-earth sector, told the Global Times on Friday. 

According to Wu, niobium is a rare metal with certain qualities similar to rare earths, meaning that the material is also an indispensable component in the production of many items ranging from superconductors, jet fighters and rockets to electronics. 

"After being identified, it may take only three years for Niobobaotite to be extracted and processed," Wu said, pointing to a relatively low technological barrier in the commercial exploitation process. "It could be produced directly as an oxide byproduct in the manufacturing of other metals, just like how certain rare-earth oxides are produced."

Found in Bayan Obo Rare Earth Mine in Baotou, North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Niobobaotite enriches academic research on niobium minerals and shows China's leading role in rare-earth research.

The discovery of Niobobaotite furthers scientific studies of niobium minerals and reflects the high level of China's research on rare earths, and although it has not yet demonstrated industrial utility, the mineral has a promising future, Zhang Ronghui, a member of the Chinese Society for Metals, told the Global Times on Friday.  

As the world's leading producer of rare earths, China has been a world leader in research in the industry. On September 17, a team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences revealed major breakthroughs in rare-earth mining that shorten mining time by about 70 percent and increase the recovery rate of rare earths by about 30 percent.

China has formed a complete industrial chain around the rare earths, and it has low-cost and low-pollution processing capacity. In 2022, China accounted for 63 percent of the world's rare-earth mining, 85 percent of rare-earth processing, and 92 percent of rare-earth magnet production, according to Politico.