Building a Value Chain for Recycling a Strategically Important Metal.
This new project, centred in the UK, will establish a business case and roadmap for recycling niobium. This metallic element is used in many applications and manufactured products. It also has an increasing role in the development of new green technologies. With the UK wholly reliant on imports of niobium, Circular Niobium will lay the ground for technology developers and manufacturers to mitigate against supply risks and develop more sustainable products.
What is niobium?
Niobium is a transition metal and is used in many types of materials, in varying amounts. One of its main uses is as an alloying element in steel products, where the addition of a very small amount (~0.1%), produces a large improvement in performance, enabling stronger and safer steel structures. More recently, niobium has been used in new applications, including energy storage. Niobium-containing materials are proving to have a significant impact on the performance of batteries, greatly enhancing their storage and power capacity. However, recycling rates of niobium are currently very low, just 0.3% is recycled back into a niobium product globally.
An expert team in the UK, led by Beta, with battery materials developer Echion Technologies and the British Geological Survey, kicked off the initiative in April with an initial one-year feasibility study. The team were successful in receiving funding for Circular Niobium from a competition managed by Innovate UK in conjunction with the UKRI Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centre for Technology Metals (Met4Tech). The feasibility study will specifically assess the economic, technical, and environmental opportunity to develop a value chain for recycling niobium products.
By the end of the project, the team will have established a business model for recycling niobium and a roadmap for the development of a secondary niobium market. This important output will also be linked into a broader materials roadmap for technology metals being drawn up by Met4Tech. Finally, Beta Technology will establish a virtual Niobium Innovation Hub, providing information and technical support for niobium products in the UK.
Circular Niobium Project Lead and Managing Director of Beta Technology Richard Wrigley said: “The first thing we really need to understand is how niobium flows in and out of the UK and Europe, and in which sectors. The British Geological Survey brings vast experience in mapping this type of information. We can also then develop a specific cost model for the recycling of niobium from battery materials, with our partner Echion Technologies, who have developed a novel anode material using niobium. Finally, we will build confidence in supply with industry users, policymakers and niobium suppliers through engagement and dissemination, building partnerships in the future value chain”.
Find out more
If you would like to find out more and engage with Circular Niobium, please contact the project lead Richard Wrigley at Beta Technology. We would especially like users of niobium products to contact us to help the project team identify material flows.