We develop and apply new tools to understand Nb surface chemistry and fundamental electronic processes using theoretical ab initio methods. We study the thermodynamics of impurities and hydrides in the near-surface region as well as their effect on the surface band gap. This makes it possible for experimentalists to relate changes in STM dI/dV measurements resulting from different preparations to changes in subsurface structure. We also calculate matrix elements for electron-impurity scattering in Nb for common impurities O, N, C, and H. By transforming these matrix elements into a Wannier function basis, we calculate lifetimes for a dense set of states on the Fermi surface and determine the mean free path as a function of impurity density. This technique can be generalized to calculate other scattering amplitudes and timescales relevant to SRF theory.