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Brazil was the world's leading niobium producer with 90% of global production in 2015, followed by Canada with 9%. Brazil exported about 5,000-7,000t of ferroniobium per month last year to China, Europe and the US, according to data from the US Geological Survey.
Furthermore, metallic minerals accounted for about 76% of Brazil's mineral sales last year, with niobium being among the eight most important that together corresponded to 98.5% of metallic minerals sales, the latest available data from Brazil's minerals production department DNPM shows.
Brazil's niobium sales last year – together with those of aluminum, copper, tin, iron, manganese, nickel and gold – totaled 67.5bn reais (about US$20bn) in 2015, DNPM says.
Niobium is used in steelmaking and in various superconducting materials. It is also used in welding, the nuclear industry, electronics, optics, numismatics and jewelry, among others.
Brazil produced 22Mt of raw niobium last year, and 160,738t of contained niobium.
According to DNPM, Brazil has six active niobium mines and two processing plants.
The top niobium producer in the country last year was Anglo American's niobium and phosphate unit in Goiás state, with a 51.2% share of sales.
Four other companies operate in northern Rondônia state, with a combined sales share of 4.16%, according to DNPM.
Semi-manufactured niobium exports last year totaled US$1.61bn.
Minsur plans to increase niobium-tantalum output at Mineração Taboca – consisting of the Pitinga mine and Pirapora foundry – this quarter after finishing work on power plant repairs and an expansion, CEO Juan Luis Kruger said last week.
A new flotation plant is designed to boost capacity at the mine by 75% to 3,500t/y of niobium-tantalum alloys, Kruger said.
In September, Anglo American announced it has completed the sale of its niobium and phosphate businesses in Brazil to China Molybdenum Corporation (CMOC) for approximately US$1.7bn following an agreement in April.
The niobium business consists of one mine and processing facilities, two non-operating mines, two further mineral deposits and sales and marketing operations in the UK and Singapore.
In November 2014, CBMM hired German plant making company SMS Siemag to supply a submerged arc furnace aimed at increasing capacity at the Araxá complex (pictured) in Minas Gerais.
CBMM invested 800mn reais (US$236mn) through 2015 to increase Araxá's ferroniobium capacity to 150,000t/y from 90,000t/y.
Commissioning is scheduled for late-2016 or early-2017, the company said at the time.
In November 2015, Russian ferroalloy producer Kanta met with officials from Brazil's Goiás state to discuss a possible mining partnership.
Goiás is the second largest niobium-producing state in Brazil after neighboring Minas Gerais.
Kanta has niobium processing capacity of 7,200t/y.