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Brazilian niobium miner CBMM eyes European car market

The new BAC Mono will be made use high levels of niobium. (Image courtesy of Lars Mars Cars | YouTube.)

Brazil niobium miner Companhia Brasileira de Metalurgia e Mineração (CBMM) has inked a deal with British high-performance luxury carmaker Briggs Automotive Company (BAC) to supply niobium for the production of ultra-light, high-speed cars. 

CBMM will work with BAC to develop a new sports car using high amounts of niobium a metal that makes steel more resistant. 

The partners expect the final product, a race car for use on the streets, will be more fuel-efficient due to its light weight and greater speed.

“The use of metal alloys enriched with niobium in the chassis will lead to a reduction of the material necessary to achieve the structural objective of the vehicle,” Pablo Salazar, head of mobility at CBMM, told the O Estado de S. Paulo

“The result is a lighter car, with the possibility of achieving higher speed in a shorter time. Additionally, it will offer better braking and safety response,” he said. 

Bolsonaro’s favourite

President Jair Bolsonaro is seeking to expand and diversify the Brazilian mining sector, which is heavily reliant on iron ore exports. He has repeatedly said he sees niobium as a key part of Brazil’s future economy and is believed to have been the first presidential candidate to make niobium a campaign issue.

The country accounts for about 90% of the world’s niobium resources, with 75% of national production arising from CBMM in southern Minas Gerais state. 

Niobium—also known as columbium—makes steel more resistant and lighter 

Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship sought to protect strategic natural resources such as oil and minerals from foreign interests, favouring state companies to develop them instead.

Bolsonaro, a former Army captain and known admirer of the military, has long subscribed to that view. He has also pushed for a law allowing mining, forestry and other commercial activities on the country’s indigenous reserves. The controversial bill was sent to parliament in February.

A study published in September found that large-scale niobium mining proposals, if carried out in the remote northwest portion of the Brazilian Amazon, would likely cause significant forest loss and threaten biodiversity and fragile ecosystems.

There are two known niobium deposits in the region, at Seis Lagos and at Santa Isabel do Rio Negro, located in the Rio Negro River basin. The Brazilian portion of the Rio Negro River basin is home to 23 Indigenous groups, including the Yanomami people, and it holds vast tracts of undisturbed rainforest, rich in biodiversity.

Niobium — also known as columbium —  is used as an additive to steel products in industrial applications, including cars, airplanes, pipelines, spacecraft and weapons. The element may soon also be used in electric car batteries.