Vanadium is a silvery-grey transition metal that’s currently produced in only three countries: China, South Africa and Russia. The metal is not found on its own in nature, but can be separated from about 65 minerals, including carnotite, roscoelite,
In terms of characteristics, vanadium has good structural strength and is ductile; in addition, it’s harder than most metals and steels, though due to its ductility some sources refer to it as soft. Vanadium is also resistant to corrosion, and remains stable against alkalis, along with sulfuric and hydrochloric acids. It oxidizes at about 660 degrees Celsius, becoming vanadium pentoxide, or V2O5.
Those qualities make vanadium useful for a variety of important applications, with the main one by a long shot being alloys like ferrovanadium. That said, demand for vanadium from the battery sector is expected to grow, while vanadium pentoxide is used in ceramics and as a catalyst in certain chemical reactions. Read on for a more detailed overview of vanadium uses.
Vanadium uses: Alloys
As mentioned, most vanadium produced today is used to make alloys. In fact, current estimates indicate that about 80 percent of vanadium is used to make ferrovanadium, an alloy of iron and vanadium.
Those new to the vanadium space might reasonably wonder why so much of the metal is used for just one thing. To see why that’s the case, it’s important to understand what exactly ferrovanadium is. Put simply, ferrovanadium is one of many different ferroalloy types, and ferroalloys themselves are alloys of iron that have a high proportion of one or more other element. Other common ferroalloys include ferromagnesium, ferromanganese and ferrochromium.
Ferroalloys are incredibly important in the world today because they’re used in the production of steel and other alloys. Steel, of course, has myriad industrial applications; for instance, it’s used in the construction of infrastructure, such as roads and railways, as well as to make appliances and buildings. It’s also used to make ships, in the aerospace industry and in pipelines, among many other uses.
Steel has different characteristics depending on what ferroalloy it’s made with, and ferrovanadium is particularly desirable in steelmaking. That’s because only a small amount of vanadium can significantly increase the strength, hardness and high temperature stability of steel.
Vanadium uses: Other
It’s clear that most vanadium goes toward the production of alloys, but the metal definitely has other uses as well. For instance, as noted above, vanadium pentoxide is used in ceramics and as a catalyst in certain chemical reactions. Specifically, it’s used to make sulfuric acid and maleic anhydride, and is added to glass to make a green or blue tint.
Vanadium pentoxide is also used to permanently fix dyes to fabric, and can be mixed with gallium to form superconductive magnets.
On a different note, some believe that in the future the energy sector may become a big source of demand for vanadium. The idea is that as the world shifts toward using more sustainable power, vanadium-redox batteries (VRBs), a type of flow battery designed to safely store and release large amounts of energy, will become increasingly widespread.
That said, VRBs have had a rocky start — though the first VRB was created in the 1980s, until 2006 companies weren’t allowed to produce them due to initial patent terms. Since then, work on VRBs has moved forward a little more quickly, with countries like Japan and Germany providing subsidies for companies working in the energy storage space.
Companies elsewhere are also getting in on the action too. For instance, American Vanadium (TSXV:AVC) is selling GILDEMEISTER’s CellCube, which it bills as “the world’s leading commercially available vanadium flow battery.” Meanwhile, VanadiumCorp Resource (TSXV:VRB) is targeting the production of vanadium electrolyte, a key component of VRBs, while Bushveld Minerals (LSE:BMN) just launched a new business focused on the batteries.
That’s just a small sampling of countries and companies working on VRB technology. It will certainly be interesting to see how future work on VRBs progresses, and in particular to see whether they will eventually become as big a source of vanadium demand as some expect.
Securities Disclosure: I, Charlotte McLeod, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.