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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)


Page 259

  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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