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Vanadium is a silvery-gray, soft and ductile metal with good corrosion resistance to alkalis, sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid and salt water. It oxidizes in air at temperatures exceeding 660˚C to vanadium pentoxide (V2O5). Vanadium was discovered in 1801 by Andrés Manuel del Rio, and then it was rediscovered 30 years later by Nils Gabriel Sefström who named it vanadium after the Scandanvian goddess, Vanadis.
Roughly 80 percent of vanadium that is produced is used as ferrovanadium as an additive to strengthen steels. In small amounts, vanadium can significantly increase the strength of steel. As such, it is used in the production of rust-resistant high-speed springs for use in nuclear applications, as well as in steel tools and surgical instruments. Vanadium also acts as a stabilizer for titanium, providing an increase in strength and temperature stability. When combined with titanium and aluminum, the resulting titanium-aluminum-vanadium alloy is used for jet engines and high-speed aircraft.
Vanadium pentoxide, the most popular oxide of vanadium, is used as a catalyst in the manufacture of sulfuric acid. It is also used to make ceramics. Vanadium is also emerging with significant importance in the manufacture of vanadium redox batteries, which employs vanadium ions in difference states to store chemical potential energy. The technology is geared at creating unlimited power storage tanks to meet increased energy demands.
Vanadium is never found unbound in nature. However, it is found in approximately 65 different minerals including, patronite, carnotite and vanadinite and in fossil fuel deposits. Vanadium is also found as a byproduct of uranium mining and in steel slag and fly ash. Any vanadium obtained through slag and fly ash forms ferrovanadium, a mixture of iron and vanadium that can be used in place of pure vanadium.
Most of the world’s vanadium is comes from vanadium-bearing magnetite found in ultramafic gabbro bodies. Vanadium occurs in deposits of titaniferous magnetite, phosphate rock and uraniferous sandstone and siltstone. Typically, vanadium constitutes less than 2 percent of the host rock.
The top vanadium-producing countries according to the US Geological Survey were South Africa, China and Russia. China produced 41,000 tonnes last year, South Africa came in second at 21,000 tonnes and Russia’s output for 2014 was 15,000 tonnes, with all three countries matching their previous years’ production totals. Australia, Peru, southwestern United States and Madagascar all have the potential to become large future producers of the metal. Vanadium is the 13 most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. However, commercially viable deposits are rare and world-class deposits even more so.
While it’s most commonly used as an additive to strengthen steel alloys, the BBC reported last year that demand for vanadium from the energy sector may increase in the coming years as the world shifts to more sustainable power generation.
One solution, which was created in the early 1980s, is the vanadium-redox batteries (VRB), a product that could revolutionize the way we store energy. While a patent on the product prevented much development up until 2006, the VRB is now sparking the interest of many, with countries like Japan and Germany starting to provide subsidies to companies working in the energy storage industry. In March 2014, Japan decided to make this possible after the Fukushima nuclear accident which heightened energy supply issues.
As mentioned, there are few countries currently mining vanadium, which also means very few companies. One company currently producing is Largo Resources (TSXV:LGO) with its Maracas Menchen mine in Brazil, which has a measured plus indicated mineral resource of 24.6 million tonnes at 1.11 percent V2O5.
There are also a few companies exploring for vanadium, such as VanadiumCorp Resource (TSXV:VRB), with its Lac Dore vanadium project and Iron-T Vanadium project, both of which are in Quebec and Australia-based Yellow Rock Resources (ASX:YRR), with its high-grade Gabanintha project.