By Roberto Samora
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian niobium miner Cia Brasileira de Metalurgica e Mineração is considering investing at least 3 billion reais ($773.49 million) to expand capacity should Chinese steel demand keep growing rapidly in the next few years, its chief executive said on Thursday.
Niobium, a rare metal in high demand from automakers, aerospace companies and other manufacturers, is used as an additive to steel to make the metal stronger and lighter.
In an interview with Reuters, CEO Eduardo Ribeiro said CBMM, as the company is known, would have to expand the capacity of its mine in southeastern Brazil beyond the 150,000 tons projected for the end of 2020, if demand for its product continues to grow at a rate of 10 percent per year by 2021.
That projected capacity would already be up from 110,000 tons today.
"We are working to see what CBMM would look like if it produced in excess of 150,000 tons," said in a telephone interview. "If we grow 10% in the coming years ... we will need more capacity."
The company, which holds almost 80% of the global niobium market, could start expanding the project starting in 2021, he said.
CBMM is 70%-controlled by Brazilian clan Moreira Salles, best known as a key shareholder of Itau Unibanco Holding SA, with Chinese, South Korean and Japanese partners owning the remaining 30%.
(Writing by Christian Plumb; Editing by Sandra Maler)