Niobium Powder:Production,Types,Suppliers

Overview

Niobium powder is a refractory metal material valued for its unique combination of physical, chemical, and electrical properties. Also known as columbium, niobium offers excellent heat resistance, corrosion resistance, superconductivity at low temperatures, and stability in harsh environments.

As a powder, niobium facilitates fabrication of components via processes like metal injection molding, hot isostatic pressing, additive manufacturing, thermal spraying, and powder metallurgy pressing and sintering. Key applications include superconducting magnets, high-performance alloys, electronic devices, aerospace and defense components, chemical processors, and medical implants.

This guide provides a detailed overview of niobium powder, including production methods, compositions, characteristics, properties, specifications, applications, pricing, and major global suppliers. It also includes multiple tables summarizing key parameters to help engineers, product designers, and researchers understand niobium powder materials and select appropriate grades.

Niobium Powder

Production of Niobium Powder

Commercial production of niobium powder relies on extracting niobium ore minerals followed by chemical conversion processes to obtain niobium in powder form.

Niobium Powder Production Methods

  • Extraction – Niobium ores are mined and concentrated through flotation to produce pyrochlore or columbite mineral concentrates.
  • Conversion – Concentrates are chemically converted to crude niobium oxide or other niobium intermediates.
  • Purification – Multiple processes applied to remove impurities from niobium chemical intermediates.
  • Reduction – Niobium oxides/salts reduced with hydrogen, carbon, or metals to produce niobium metal powder.
  • Condensation – Vaporized niobium metal condensed into fine spherical powders.
  • Milling – Coarse niobium crushed into fine irregular powder particles.

Key production stages focus on removing impurities like tantalum, tungsten, iron, and other metals present in natural ores. This yields pure niobium powder suitable for advanced applications.

Types of Niobium Powder

Niobium powder is available in various compositions and morphologies to suit different fabrication processes and end-use requirements.

Niobium Powder Types

TypeDescriptionParticle ShapeCommon Uses
Pure niobium99.8-99.99% niobium contentSpherical, irregularAlloys, superconductors
Niobium hydrideNbH2, niobium with atomic hydrogenIrregular, porousHigh purity alloys, additive manufacturing
Niobium-titaniumNb-Ti alloys with 10-50% TiIrregularMRI magnets, superconductors
Nickel niobiumNb-Ni alloys, commonly 60:40 ratioSphericalElectronics, corrosion resistant alloys
Tantalum niobiumNb-Ta alloys containing 10-90% TaAngularHigh temperature alloys, corrosion resistance
FerroniobiumIron-niobium master alloys with 60-70% NbIrregularSteel alloying addition

Pure niobium provides optimal high temperature properties. Alloying additions like titanium or nickel enhance mechanical properties. Hydriding improves powder flow and sintering response.

Properties of Niobium Powder

Niobium powder offers a balance of physical, mechanical, electrical, thermal, and chemical properties that make it suitable for high performance applications.

Niobium Powder Properties

PropertyTypical ValuesSignificance
Particle size1 – 150 micronsCompactibility, sintering behavior
Apparent density2.5 – 5.0 g/ccPressing and handling characteristics
Tap density3.5 – 7.0 g/ccIndicator of compressibility
Flow rate25 – 50 s/50gPowder flowability, ease of die fill
Oxygen content500 – 5000 ppmInfluence on mechanical properties
Thermal conductivity54 W/m·KHeat removal capability
Melting point2469°CRetains strength at high temperatures
Electrical resistivity15-20 μΩ·cmConductive properties
Tensile strength250 – 650 MPaResistance to fracture
Hardness80 – 200 HVResistance to wear, deformation

Very high melting point and stable microstructure confer excellent high temperature properties. Low electrical resistivity provides conductivity.

Powder characteristics like particle size, morphology, and oxygen content determine behavior during processing and final material performance.

Applications of Niobium Powder

The unique properties of niobium make it suitable for specialized applications including:

Niobium Powder Applications

IndustryUsesDesired Properties
AerospaceJet engine components, rocketsHigh strength-to-weight ratio, heat resistance
MedicalImplants, radiation therapyBiocompatibility, corrosion resistance
ElectronicsCapacitors, conductive coatingsElectrical conductivity, superconductivity
AutomotiveExhaust systems, fuel cell catalystsCorrosion resistance, high temperature strength
ChemicalHeat exchangers, reaction vesselsCorrosion resistance against acids and alkalis
DefenseMissile components, armorHigh strength, heat resistance

Niobium alloys containing titanium or molybdenum provide elevated strength levels for aerospace turbines and rocket nozzles operating at extreme temperatures.

Specialty niobium-tin wires enable superconducting magnets for MRI medical imagers and physics research equipment. Porous niobium structures serve as catalyst supports for fuel cell electrodes.

Niobium’s stability across a wide temperature range makes it well suited for furnace components, aerospace systems, and other challenging high-heat environments.

Specifications for Niobium Powder

International material standards help define composition limits, acceptable impurity levels, particle size ranges, and other test methods specific to niobium powder grades for different applications.

Niobium Powder Specifications

StandardDescriptionParticle SizePurityOxygen Content
ASTM B393Pure niobium powder-325 mesh99.8% min2000 ppm max
ASTM B394Niobium hydride powder10 – 75 microns98% min4500 ppm max
AWS A5.18Niobium-titanium powder for welding-100 meshPer alloy composition3000 ppm max
ASTM B517Ferroniobium granules3 – 25 mm60-70% Nb1.5% max
ISO 9001Quality management for Nb producersCustomer specified99.9% minApplication specific

These help define quality criteria for using niobium powder in different fields like alloy welding, superconductors, steelmaking, or general industrial applications.

Niobium Powder Suppliers

Many companies produce and distribute niobium powder in various compositions, sizes, purity levels, and package quantities to suit user requirements.

Niobium Powder Suppliers

SupplierProduction CapacityProductsPricing
CBMM63,000 tonnes/yearPure niobium, niobium hydride$$/kg
Solikamsk15,000 tonnes/yearFerroniobium, niobium alloys$$/kg
AMG Superalloys10,000 tonnes/yearNickel niobium, specialty alloys$$$/kg
Titanex3,000 tonnes/yearPure niobium, mill products$$/kg
Edgetech Industries1,000 tonnes/yearPure niobium, niobium oxides$$/kg

Pricing varies based on purity, particle size, alloy composition, and lot quantity from $50/kg up to $500/kg or more for high purity grades.

High volume niobium producers are located in Brazil and Russia close to ore supplies. Additional processors exist worldwide to serve regional markets.

Selecting Niobium Powder

Choosing the best niobium powder requires matching composition, properties, and particle characteristics to production methods and performance requirements.

Key selection criteria:

  • Purity levels – Impacts mechanical properties and microstructure
  • Alloying additions – Titanium, nickel, or tantalum to enhance properties
  • Particle size and shape – Affects pressing and sintering behavior
  • Apparent and tap density – Indicates powder compressibility
  • Oxygen/nitrogen content – Lower is better for high temperature strength
  • Powder production method – Determines particle characteristics and capabilities
  • Supplier capabilities – Quality systems, sampling, customer service

Work closely with niobium powder suppliers to obtain the optimal material for your process and components. Minor variations in powder properties can significantly impact manufacturing behavior.

FAQ

What is the benefit of niobium hydride powder?

Niobium hydride powders contain atomic hydrogen in solid solution. The hydrogen gives improved powder flow and compressibility compared to pure niobium for easier processing. The hydrogen leaves on heating, so the sintered properties match pure niobium.

How does particle shape influence niobium powder properties?

Spherical powder produced via gas atomization delivers higher and more uniform compressed and sintered density. Irregular powder morphologies benefit green strength for handling after pressing but give less predictable shrinkage behavior.

What affects the price of niobium powder?

Purity is the primary driver of pricing. More extensive refining to achieve higher niobium content costs more. Smaller particle sizes also command higher prices due to sieving requirements. Minimum order quantities can significantly impact per-kilogram pricing.

What niobium content is typical in superalloys?

Superalloys utilize 1-5% niobium additions to provide solid solution strengthening. Higher niobium levels compromise ductility and weldability. Common examples are Inconel 718, Inconel 625, and Waspaloy.

Why is flow rate an important powder characteristic?

Flow rate gives insight into how freely niobium powder flows under standardized conditions. Smooth powder flow allows precise filling of die cavities and improves handling. Lower flow rates indicate potential issues with segregation or caking.

What is the benefit of alloying niobium with titanium?

Additions of 10-50% titanium to niobium significantly increase strength while retaining excellent conductivity and superconductivity properties. Niobium-titanium alloys enable high-field MRI magnets and particle accelerators.

How is ferroniobium used in steelmaking?

As a master alloy containing 60-70% niobium, ferroniobium allows economical introduction of niobium into stainless and high-strength low alloy steels. Niobium is a powerful grain refiner and carbide former in steels.

Conclusion

With its unparalleled thermal stability, corrosion resistance, alloy potential, and superconductivity, niobium fills essential roles in demanding applications. Niobium powder provides engineers flexibility to employ advanced fabrication techniques and tune properties using alloying elements. As new uses emerge for niobium’s capabilities, suppliers continue advancing powder production and characterization.

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