With a resource update under its belt Taseko (TSX: TKO, AMEX: TGB) called its Aley deposit in BC, Canada, “the largest undeveloped niobium project in the world.”

According to Taseko’s resource update Aley rings in at 286 million tonnes @ 0.37 percent Nb2O5 in indicated resources and 144 million @ 0.32 percent Nb2O5 in inferred resources. The resource growth amounts to a 170 percent increase in total tonnage.

Taseko President and CEO Russell Hallbauer stated in the press release that the resource update “provides additional confidence that the deposit will support a long life, low cost mine.” Taseko, a base-metal miner, aims to finish a feasibility study of the Aley project in 2012 so that it can make an “investment decision” by early 2012, Hallbauer said.

Now, with the major resource update, the Aley niobium deposit has begun to catch up size-wise to Iamgold’s Niobec niobium deposit and mine, one of the world’s major sources of niobium, which is used primarily in steel making.

Niobec measured and indicated resources stand at 458 million tonnes at 0.42 percent Nb2O5.

While some may initially scratch their heads as to why Iamgold holds such a non-gold asset in Niobec, strong niobium prices help explain Iamgold’s commitment to Nb2O5. The United States Geological Service showed in its 2012 overview of niobium that by 2011 Nb2O5 prices had near doubled since 2007.

Indeed, speaking to a Niobec resource update last year, Iamgold’s Carol Banducci, executive vice president and chief financial officer, highlighted increasing demand for niobium as having “confirmed” Iamgold’s “belief” in the long-term outlook for its niobium asset.

“Niobium demand has grown at a 10 percent compound annual growth rate over the last 10 years and is forecast to increase steadily going forward,” Banducci said.

As outlined in a scoping study last year, Iamgold is considering tripling production at Niobec. It is also considering expanding into rare earths at Niobec given that it has outlined a rare earth deposit with near half a billion tonnes @1.65 percent total rare earth oxides next to its niobium mine.

Iamgold wants to expand the niobium mine without “using any cash flow from our gold business,” Banducci said, and is looking for help in the form of a strategic partner.

“In the near term, we are looking to monetize 10 percent to 20 percent of Niobec, which will raise a portion of the capital to fund the expansion of this asset.” 

This year, Iamgold President and CEO Steve Letwin, said much the same in a prepared statement about two months ago after the release of Iamgold’s rare earth resource at Niobec.”We will explore alternative strategies for developing this resource, such as joint venture partnerships and strategic alliances, which will not impact our gold business,”