Chemical, Pharmaceutical and Medical
Resistance to high temperatures and chemical corrosion make niobium and niobium (like tantalum and its alloys) material of choice for chemical, medical, pharmaceutical and nuclear plant processing equipment. Niobium operates safely at high temperatures and chemical concentrations while minimizing product contamination.
Niobium is extremely corrosion resistant in demanding applications. Its advantages include exceptional durability, excellent heat transfer properties, years of performance without lost production and eliminating the added expense of back-up equipment. The long service life of heat exchangers, condensers and other niobium components provides high productivity rates. Maintenance and replacement expenditures are eliminated.
The properties of niobium are perfectly suited for the production of nitric acid and nitric acid-derived products including ammonium nitrate, various explosives and fertilizers. It also performs well in hydrochloric acid applications.
One of the most common uses for niobium is overhead condensers and related heat/recovery sections of nitric acid facilities. Aluminum, nickel based alloys and in some cases titanium were used in past applications where corrosion continued to be a major problem causing nitric acid customers to choose niobium (and tantalum even better) as the most suitable material. Niobium is used to produce multi-purpose condensers, helical coils, pipe spools, valve linings and a variety of components exposed to corrosive fluids.
When lighting requirements go beyond incandescent and fluorescent lighting, there is high-intensity discharge (HID) lighting. The most common HID lamps are the mercury or sodium vapor types seen in roadway, outdoor industrial, or stadium lighting. These types are among the most energy efficient, long-life light sources available today.
Niobium alloy with 1% zirconium (Nb-1Zr) is the prominent material of choice for the critical metal parts as end-caps and lead wires in HID lamps. This niobium alloy provides the right blend of cost and high temperature mechanical strength, while prolonging service life important to lighting manufacturers and their municipal and commercial customers.
Aerospace, aviation, and military applications include superalloys for jet engines, capacitors for electronic systems and thermal and acoustic insulation.
Niobium (and tantalum) is used in aviation and aerospace turbine blade superalloys, flame and heat shielding, and other parts of jet engines. In these applications, the outstanding high temperature properties of niobium (and tantalum) contribute to structural integrity and better fuel efficiency at high operating temperatures. In addition, the use of niobium (and especially tantalum) capacitors is prevalent in electronic systems for aviation and aerospace. High reliability, in a range of environments, is paramount to these industries.
Niobium (and tantalum) is critical components of superalloys used in turbine blades. Just as they do in jet engines, these performance metals bring structural integrity at higher temperatures, which increases fuel efficiency.
Niobium is also used in cathodic protection systems protecting oilrigs and oil well casings, where it serves as the substrate for platinum anodes. Niobium provides a high anodic breakdown voltage of 120 volts in sodium chloride solutions and seawater, 12 times that of alternative material titanium. Consequently, high currents can be handled with a low number of anodes
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), often called “the window into the human body”, is an area where superconductors perform lifesaving functions. The powerful magnets, which produce a magnetic field inside the patient’s body, are made of superconducting wire and cable. Hydrogen atoms accept energy from the magnetic field and then release this energy at a frequency that can be detected and displayed on a computer.
An important component of the superconducting magnet is a niobium alloy. When cooled to virtually zero temperatures, niobium-titanium eliminates the resistance to the flow of electrical currents and results in substantially stronger magnetic fields.
Other actual and potential superconducting applications for niobium alloys include particle accelerators for physics research, magnetohydrodynamic marine propulsion drives, magnetic-levitation trains and even electric power generation, storage and transmission systems.