New Minerals Found At The World’s Largest Rare-Earth Mine Can Boost Defense Tech

At Bayan Obo, the largest rare-earth mine in the world, located in Inner Mongolia, Chinese geologists have discovered two new minerals, Oboniobite and Scandio-fluoro-eckermannite. The minerals were found through a partnership between the CAS Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Inner Mongolia Baotou Steel Union Co., Ltd., Baotou Research Institute of Rare Earths, and Central South University.

Academician Li Xianhua announced the findings on behalf of the CAS Institute of Geology and Geophysics. He said that the International Mineralogical Association validated their name and status as new minerals. Li claims that the newly discovered minerals are critical for developing new materials, energy, information technology, aerospace, national defence, and the military sector.

“These discoveries are vital for the country’s economic and social development,” he emphasized.

The two main elements of these minerals, niobium and scandium, are extremely rare and significant from a strategic standpoint. Superconducting materials, specific steels, and the aerospace sector all require niobium. Meanwhile, solid oxide fuel cells and alloys made of aluminium and scandium are essential.

Li Xiao, general manager of Inner Mongolia Baotou Steel Union Co., Ltd., emphasised that Bayan Obo has abundant mineral resources, including fluorite, iron, niobium, scandium, and thorium. He mentioned that since 1959, scientists had discovered eighteen new minerals at this deposit; the nineteenth and twentieth discoveries are oboniobite and scandia-fluoro-eckermannite.

Oboniobite has a yellow-brown to brown colour and a plate-like structure with a size range of 20 to 100 micrometres, according to Fan Hongrui, a researcher at the CAS Institute of Geology and Geophysics. Fan added that Zhai Mingguo, a CAS academician, was recognised under the name of Scandio-fluoro-eckermannite, the first mineral found in China that contains scandium, for his noteworthy contributions to studying China’s mineral deposits. This mineral is columnar, up to 350 micrometres in size, and has a pale yellow or light blue appearance.

China has made significant scientific advancements beyond Earth. The China National Space Administration (CNSA)’s Chang’e 5 spacecraft made essential discoveries on the lunar surface earlier this year. Trigonal Ti2O, triclinic Ti2O, and rutile (TiO2) were among the new minerals discovered by the mission. Since titanium dioxide usually occurs in various crystal forms in natural samples from Earth, identifying titanium compounds such as trigonal Ti2O and triclinic Ti2O is especially significant.

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