Automotive Critical Minerals
Today’s cars, trucks and buses are more powerful than ever before. Yet they are also safer to operate, lighter in weight, more fuel efficient, and less polluting than ever before. One of the secrets to this success are superalloy materials like Niobium.
Niobium materials are added today to vehicles both to strengthen a vehicle’s structural components (as an additive to steel) and also as an oxide, which is used in glass, electronics, batteries, emissions controls, and other systems. The primary use of Niobium in vehicles is as an steel additive. The increasing use of High Strength, Low Alloy (HSLA) steel with Niobium in modern vehicles has dramatically reduced vehicle weight and increased fuel economy.
For example, the World Steel Association has estimated that the addition of only about $9 worth of niobium in an automobile reduces the vehicles mass by 100 kilograms and increases its fuel efficiency by 5%. Those are large improvements with a relatively small amount of this amazing metal.
The Potential of Scandium in Automotive Applications
As global production of Scandium from projects such as NIoCorp’s Elk Creek Project ramps up, Scandium promises to deliver truly revolutionary potential benefits to the automotive sector. As noted Scandium expert Dr. Andrew Matheson of ONG Commodities LLC recently noted in this published piece:
“As passenger vehicles are increasingly shifting to electric propulsion, weight becomes critical, with the cost per Kg of battery the weight reduction target. A lighter car can achieve desired range targets with less battery capacity, making the vehicle substantially less expensive.
“Replacing steel with aluminium is a desirable path, but issues of manufacturability are also critical. Scandium alloys can help this process, and for capacity-limited plants can offer debottlenecking by allowing welding to replace more manual, and time-consuming, fastener-based assembly.
“In addition, the corrosion properties of scandium mean the metal can permit aluminium to replace titanium in lower temperature service (say below 300C), where corrosion is the key requirement. Examples might include truck turbochargers.”
Niobium: Small Amount, Large Impact
$9 worth of Niobium
in a mid-sized auto
reduces the vehicle’s
mass by 100 kg
— World Steel Assn.
Superalloy Blog Posts
As the U.S. looks to repair crumbling infrastructure systems, I expect to see more high-performance steels (HPS) used in structures like bridges because of the many powerful benefits they deliver. HPS steels containing a small amount of ferroniobium – which NioCorp plans to produce in southeast Nebraska at our Elk Creek Superalloy Materials Project once we are funded and in operation – are among the strongest and most durable steels on the market today.
If a $2 trillion U.S. infrastructure package is enacted, it could create a major, long-term demand boom for the critical minerals needed by infrastructure and advanced transportation systems, according to NioCorp’s CEO Mark Smith.
One global macro trend is highly likely to accelerate in the aftermath of COVID-19: increased investment in domestic materials supply chains as a means of reducing the reliance of Western nations on supply chains in developing nations. Asia’s dominance in many strategic supply chains has become painfully obvious since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted.
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