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February 16, 2021

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has updated its USMIN Mineral Deposit Database (USMIN) for the mineral commodity niobium, one of 35 mineral commodities declared critical by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Sites in this dataset occur in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Nebraska and Texas.

“Niobium is vital to many sectors of our infrastructure and manufacturing economy, and the United States is 100 percent reliant on other countries for it,” said Jeff Mauk, USGS lead scientist for USMIN. “Updates to our database can help weigh the potential for domestic niobium production against the need for future trade agreements.” 

The primary use for niobium is for the production of high-strength steel alloys used in pipelines, transportation infrastructure and structural applications. It is also an important component of the superalloys that are used to make jet-engine components, rocket subassemblies and heat-resisting and combustion equipment. 

“We’ve been updating USMIN for all of the mineral commodities declared critical to the U.S. economy by the U.S. Department of the Interior. For instance, most recently we updated the database for tungsten, an important mineral for a host of manufacturing and tool," said Mauk. “We will also soon be  releasing updates on tantalum, which almost always occurs together with niobium in nature, and is an equally important mineral.” 

Image shows a satellite view of the United States, with parts of Mexico and Canada visible.
Updates to USMIN for niobium showing sites with more than 25,000 metric tons of niobium metal. (Public domain.)

This data release provides the descriptions of 11 U.S. sites that include mineral regions, mines and mineral occurrences that contain enrichments of niobium. To be included in this data release, a site must have resources and/or past production of niobium metal greater than 10,000 metric tons, which was the approximate consumption of niobium in the U.S. in 2019.  

Globally, the largest niobium deposits occur in Brazil and Canada. The largest known niobium deposit in the U.S. is at Iron Hill, Colorado, which has been prospected for titanium, niobium, rare earth elements and thorium. Although significant U.S. resources have been identified, none has been developed. There currently has been no recorded U.S. production of niobium since the 1950s, but the Elk Creek project in Nebraska is in the furthest stage of development. 

USMIN is a national-scale geospatial database that is the authoritative source for the most important mines, mineral deposits and mineral districts of the U.S. 

To learn more about USGS mineral resources research, please visit the USGS Mineral Resources Program webpage or follow us on Twitter

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