Vanadium Uses: Alloys and More

- April 16th, 2018

Curious about vanadium and vanadium uses? About 90 percent of vanadium is used to make steel, but the metal has other key applications as well.

Vanadium is a silvery-grey transition metal that’s currently produced in only four countries: China, Russia, South Africa and Brazil. The metal is not found on its own in nature, but can be separated from about 65 minerals, including carnotite, roscoelite, vanadinite, mottramite and patronite. 

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 give the metal many uses, with the main vanadium use being in the production of 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.

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Vanadium uses: Alloys

As mentioned, most vanadium produced today is used to make alloys. In fact, current estimates indicate that about 90 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 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 infrastructure, such as roads and railways, as well as to make appliances and buildings. Another vanadium use is in ships, and it is also used in the aerospace industry and in pipelines, among many others.

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 of the metal goes toward the production of alloys, but there are other vanadium uses worth mentioning. 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.

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On a different note, vanadium use is gaining traction in the energy space. Some believe that in the future the energy sector may become a big source of demand for vanadium, suggesting that as the world shifts toward using more sustainable power, vanadium-redox batteries (VRBs) will become increasingly widespread. VRBs are a type of flow battery designed to safely store and release large amounts of energy.

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.

Interest in VRBs has ramped up in particular over the last couple of years, although the technology has been overshadowed by developments in the lithium-ion battery industry. “Vanadium flow has yet to have its Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) moment, and therefore it still flies under the radar,” Simon Moores of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence told Bloomberg in January 2018.

VRBs last longer than lithium-ion batteries and can be charged and discharged over and over without any effect on performance. But they are intended for larger-scale applications, and some experts have suggested that VRB makers are vulnerable because they depend heavily on a niche metal.

It will 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. Did any vanadium uses surprise you? Would you consider investing in the metal? Tell us in the comments.

This is an updated version of an article originally published in 2016. 

Don’t forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Amanda Kay, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

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