The village of Elk Creek in southeast Nebraska, US, is small, home to just about 100 people. However the population could soon see a rather large number of people and investors settling in town, as plans from a Canadian firm to develop a nearby niobium mine are quickly moving forward.
Vancouver-based NioCorp Developments (CVE:NB) said last week it has raised more than $5.5 million to fast track drilling and analysis of what could be the last core samples taken from the site near Elk Creek.
The mine will focus on producing niobium, considered to be among the most critical, but less publicized metal.
According to The World-Herald, the cost of building such a mine is about $400 million. It would probably be worth it, as the US currently imports 100% of its niobium needs, and there are no mines that produce the mineral in the country.
“If everything goes really well, we anticipate having a completed and bankable feasibility study by the end of the year,” Mark Smith, CEO of NioCorp and former leader of Molycorp (NYSE:MCP), was quoted as saying.
Demand and price for niobium, not widely known in the investment world, has increased dramatically over the past decade. The strong metal is highly resistant to heat and wear, which is why gas pipelines must contain it. However it is primary used as a steel hardener, and due to its relevance in aerospace and defense, niobium is considered a “strategic metal” by the US government, meaning there are few or no substitutes for the metal’s essential use.
Niocorp expects Elk Creek mine to be operational by late 2016, providing between 150 and 250 mining jobs.
* The original version of this article referred to niobium as a rare earth element, as opposed to a rare metal. The Nebraska project’s former developer, Quantum Rare Earth, used to brand it a “rare earth” mine.