Will more niobium capacity be needed?

Opinion Pieces




Will more niobium capacity be needed?

Project Blue expects new technologies to gain niobium market share over the years ahead.

The outlook for niobium is positive. Niobium demand from the steel sector will increase steadily over the period to 2050, supported by modest long-term steel demand growth and increased intensity of niobium use in steel.  But it is other, novel, markets for niobium that are forecast to show the most interesting upside potential.

One potential area of growth is in nanocrystalline materials, used to magnetically convert and control electricity. Here ferroniobium is used as a feedstock. We expect the soft magnetic materials market over the forecast horizon with nanocrystalline gradually increasing its share of the soft magnetic materials market. Overall, this translates to 10%py growth.

Another potential area of growth is lithium-ion batteries. CBMM intends the battery market to account for as much as 25% of its revenue by 2030. Reports suggest that the company expects to boost its overall niobium oxide sales from current levels of around 100tpy to at least 45ktpy in 2030. Project Blue’s base case sees demand in batteries increasing, although not at the rate envisaged by CBMM. We have set growth in batteries at 8%py but it will be a binary story – demand will take off, or it won’t. There is considerable upside to this forecast, but the technology has not yet been commercialised.

Growth in these markets, as well as steel and alloys, will require more capacity and Project Blue assumes that CBMM will up capacity in time (it has hinted at the possibility of upping capacity by another 50-75ktpy FeNb equivalent (33-50ktpy Nb) by 2030.