Major world resources of niobium and tantalum are described in this summary report of information in the International Strategic Minerals Inventory (ISMI). ISMI is a cooperative data-collection effort of earth-science and mineral-resource agencies in Australia, Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Republic of South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Part I of this report presents an overview of the resources and potential supply of niobium and tantalum based on inventory information; Part II contains tables of both geologic and mineral-resource information and includes production data collected by ISMI participants.
Niobium is used principally as an alloying element in special steels and superalloys, and tantalum is used mainly in electronics. Minerals in the columbite-tantalite series are principal ore minerals of niobium and tantalum. Pyrochlore is a principal source of niobium. These minerals are found in carbonatite, certain rocks in alkaline igneous complexes, pegmatite, and placer deposits. ISMI estimates show that there are over 7 million metric tons of niobium and almost 0.5 million metric tons of tantalum in known deposits, outside of China and the former Soviet Union, for which reliable estimates have been made.
Brazilian deposits, followed by Canadian deposits, contain by far the largest source of niobium. Tantalum production is spread widely among several countries, and Brazil and Canada are the most significant of these producers. Brazil's position is further strengthened by potential byproduct columbite from tin mining. Present economically exploitable resources of niobium appear to be sufficient for the near future, but Brazil will continue to be the predominant world supplier of ferrocolumbium. Tantalum, a byproduct of tin production, has been captive to the fluctuations of that market, but resources in pegmatite in Canada and Australia make it likely that future increases in the present modest demand will be met.