Rare metals (= minor metals), which have attracted considerable attention in recent years, are one of Sojitz’s strengths. Sojitz boasts the highest domestic market share of Niobium, the rare metal discussed in this story in terms of trading volume. We trace the development of Sojitz’s niobium project and Sojitz’s ability to lead the market through foresight amidst global competition for resources.
Niobium is a type of metal known as a rare metal. It is produced by the action of magma in the earth, and most niobium production is in Brazil and Canada. Brazil’s Araxá Mine has by far the highest reserves and production volume.
Niobium is important because when added to steel, it greatly increases the strength and durability. There are other materials with similar properties such as molybdenum and vanadium. Niobium, however, has unique properties, and as a result, there is practically no substitute.
Today, most niobium is used as a secondary material in high-grade steels, and recently demand for such steels has been skyrocketing in emerging market countries such as China and India. Niobium is used in automotive steel plates, pipelines, jet turbine engines, and many other applications, and as a result, it is a crucial material for Japanese steel makers to maintain competitiveness in global markets.
In addition to steel, niobium is used in a wide range of other applications such as high refraction lenses and the coils used in MRI diagnostic equipment.
The properties of a material can be completely different depending on the amount of other materials that are added and the process in which they are added. It is for this reason that rare metals are sometimes referred as the “vitamins of industry.”
Sojitz focused on these properties of niobium at an early stage and expanded sales routes while actively developing applications in conjunction with economic growth.
In recent year, demand for niobium has been growing rapidly, but the growth has been particularly prominent in China. Japanese steel makers are at the vanguard of development of high-performance materials. If automobiles can be made lighter without any loss of safety through the use of high-strength steel plates, they can achieve superiority in terms of fuel efficiency. It is no exaggeration that rare metals play a crucial role in this development, and niobium holds the potential for higher demand even among rare materials by targeting general steel products because of its diverse properties.