It’s #41 on your periodic chart, Niobium. Used to be called Columbium, and it’s good for superconducting applications.

Last week I saw a rather large ingot of Niobium.

Plus a clean room assembled inside a school gymnasium.

And a homemade super-pure water system for the clean room; turns out really pure water is undrinkable – it’s too corrosive.

And a cryogenic freeze-thingy.

And a manufacturing floor with a mill (which rotates the part) and a lathe (which rotates the cutting tool instead of the part) and other CNC toys inside two classrooms.

Very fun. This is Niowave, which makes parts for atom-smashers and electron guns and such. Learned about RRR purity ratings for superconducting materials. And how you accelerate particles through chambers: you use magnets and switch the polarity at exactly the midpoint, so the particle is attracted in and then repulsed out – imagine the precision required to switch at the correct moment. Geek city.

What’s cool about this is that Niowave is a rapidly growing company, taking advantage of the infrastructure and skill base available in Lansing, where there’s a research community (Michigan State and nearby U of M) as well as leftover industrial equipment and skilled manufacturing workers.

They’re not going to re-employ all of GM any time soon, but it felt like a microcosm of the US economy, or publishing (my industry) for that matter – the way forward lies in innovation, not in maintenance.


4 thoughts on “Nb

  1. According to the wiki, about 90% of all Niobium ore comes from Brazil. I wonder how much they jack up the price.

    That tidbit on pure water was fascinating.

    The link to Niowave should be niowaveinc.com, BTW.

  2. Well… my understanding is that the raw material costs $100/lb and up. Then Niowave has to go through various steps, smashing and melting and reforming it to get the necessary level of purity and granularity. You get a divot or an impurity in a cavity and the particles will go bouncing around wrong.

    The ingots I saw were 1,000 lbs or so, shaped like bollards, sitting on essentially sawhorses. (Really strong ones.)

    I just found the whole thing fascinating.

    Thanks for the link note – will fix.

  3. the financial meltdown has radically contracted prices of all major metals and precious metals, from copper, to scrap metal, to gold, silver, planinum.

    once the recovery starts, these prices will not stay low, but are currently leading indicators for decelerating demand or nascent depression or adjustment to exogenus shock whereby excess is worked out of the system.

    emerging markets will be the best place for investment, as the recovery or IF the recover can occur in the next two years, and willy nilly, in the odd way of ‘the street’ (for Wall), those markets will begin to price in such events before they can be seen, thus discounting bad news. wew.

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