There’s niobium in Nebraska. The latest estimate, released a little over a week ago, is that there is something like 19.3 million tons of the rare earth metal under the town of Elk Creek. That’s enough to supply the entire planet’s demand for niobium for two decades.
Niobium is an element, fairly high on the periodic table, with an atomic number of 41, placed between zirconium and molybdenum. When added to steel, niobium makes an extremely tough alloy that’s used in devices such as jet engines.
The discovery of niobium in Nebraska is good news for the U.S. economy. Currently, the United States imports all of the niobium it uses. Most of the imports come from Brazil, with a small amount coming from Canada.
It’s odd timing, then, that Senator John Rockefeller has just introduced two pieces of legislation, S. 2378 and S. 2380, that extend a total suspension on a form of oxidized niobium – ferroniobium. Duties on imported niobium could provide just the sort of economic pressure needed for quick development of niobium mines in Nebraska, bringing jobs to the American heartland.
Is it a coincidence that Senator Rockefeller has received almost half a million dollars in campaign contributions from the airline industry, which relies on niobium-enhanced engines in its airplanes?