Bureau of Mines / Minerals yearbook: Metals and minerals 1978-79
Year 1978-79, Volume 1 (1978-1979)
Jones, Thomas S.
Columbium and tantalum, pp. 259-270 PDF (1.5 MB)
259Columbium and Tantalum By Thomas S. Jones1 All columbium and tantalum raw materials were imported in 1978-79; none were mined domestically nor were any released from Government stockpiles. Columbium raw materials were imported mainly as mineral concentrates. Tin slags, including materials derived from tin slags, continued to be the largest component of tantalum supply. Nearly all columbium materials imported were for domestic consumption, whereas a significant amount of tantalum was exported in upgraded form Trade in columbium materials was at a deficit of $27 million in 1978 and $39 million in 1979 for tantalum materials, there were surpluses of $13 and $22 million in 1978 and 1979, respectively. Prices escalated almost continuously for tantalum raw materials and products amidst expressions of concern about status of the world tantalum supply. The contract price for Canadian tantalite, a major source of tantalum for the United States, rose from $24 per pound of contained pentoxide at the start of 1978 to $75 by the end of 1979. Spot tantalite prices increased by an even greater amount. Columbite prices also rose significantly with most of the increase occurring in 1979, when prices more than doubled; high-purity ferrocolumbium prices followed a similar pattern. In contrast, the price of ferrocolumbium for steelmaking was unchanged throughout 1978 and the first half of 1979, after which the price was advanced a relatively modest amount. Usage of columbium as ferrocolumbium by the steel industry and of tantalum by the electronics industry continued to dominate the respective consumption patterns. Increasing consumption of columbium as ferrocolumbium and nickel columbium resulted in successive records for overall columbium consumption, 5.7 million pounds in 1978 and 6.3 million pounds in 1979. In both years, rising demand for columbium in superalloys contributed significantly to consumption increases. Likewise, continued strong demand for tantalum produced greater shipments by domestic processors in both 1978' and 1979. At the same time, higher tantalum prices resulted in some substitution away from tantalum, intensified tantalum recycling in carbides, and stimulated a more widespread search for and development of sources of tantalum supply worldwide. Legislation and Government Programs.—Changes in U.S. Government inventories of columbium and tantalum materials consisted of only insignificant bookkeeping adjustments in 1978. There were neither acquisitions nor sales of stockpile excesses, and goals remained the same. As shown in table 3, most of the goal for columbium concentrates was met under the offset concept, while inventories of all tantalum materials continued to be considerably below the respective goals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a report in 1979 on liquid wastes and procedures for control thereof as developed in a study that included domestic firms engaged in primary production of columbium and tantalum salts and metal. This information was preliminary to the setting of control standards.2
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