I faxed a customer in Brazil, Electometal, offering my services. The owner of this company called me the same day with a consulting order. He asked me to fly to Brazil as soon as possible. There are no direct flights to Brazil from London. I was going to lose two of my tax days just for landing in Miami. I have a beautiful memory of what happened when I first visited Rio De Janeiro and the continuing events in San Paula during my visit to Electometal.
The history of Brazil and the colorful owner of Electometal would require a book of it's own. I got myself into another international hornet's nest during this trip by helping his metallurgist make a dramatic breakthrough in their ability to refine pure niobium from the ore. Brazil had mines that held more than ninety percent of the easy to ore in the world. Five percent of a new superalloy was niobium and the price was about $40 per pound. Union Carbide controlled the market using an illegal cartel that our government supported. The profits from niobium were used to fight communism in South America. A careful review would find that Reagan knew North was using some of this cash to support the freedom fighters in Nicaragua
Electometal's small refining department was producing this metal with a high oxygen and nitrogen impurity level. Their process was to use powered oxide of niobium mixed with powdered aluminum that was set fire with chips of magnesium. I knew this process well from my beryllium days. My simple solution was to soak the powders in kerosene in a nickel sheet metal container. The sealed container was pumped down and a small torch was used to push out the remaining kerosene. I explained to the owner that fine powders chemically attach water and nitrogen and without soaking them in kerosene just the use of vacuum would not do the trick. I then packed dry ice around the container to flood the enclosed room with carbon dioxide as the container heated up during the rapid thermal reaction that takes place in accordance with God's plan for things chemical. The purity was remarkable and the nickel impurity was part of my next plan. My hillbilly logic was simple: If it nitrogen and oxygen ain't there and you don't let it get there, it wont be there.
The owner of Electometal had a love of Arabian horses, he had just returned from Amsterdam with two of these beautiful beasts. This little trip and hobby cost him $6 million. He could afford it because he had a private ranch in the Amazon region. This small ranch was a little less than one million acres, and had more than a half million cattle. He had a private jet to fly to his country castle for long weekends with his family and his prize herd of horses. People it that area lived in poverty conditions. No wonder money was needed to fight the spread of socialistic ideas.
Electometal owned an inactive niobium mine. They were blocked from exporting this metal in the standard raw material form. He was encouraged to metal products from his factory and could import nickel in barter trades. I suggested he produce a metal product with fifteen percent niobium and I would sell it in the world market. The Russians had an excess of nickel, a business that plan that would dwarf my carbon plans was ahead of me.
I was not the person that he needed to accomplish the electrical task, and I gave him Soderstrom's telephone in Knoxville where he was working with Hensley on some high strength carbon furnaces for Japan. Soderstrom had serviced Consarc arc furnaces for this man in the past and he knew him well.