One of the world’s least known metals is also of great importance, and likely to become more so as renewable energies catch up with and possibly eclipse fossil fuels. Yet vanadium’s primary use as a steel alloy is set to keep prices buoyant and North American explorers racing to find a domestic source of the metal that was once used to make swords so strong and sharp the mere sight of them struck fear into the hearts of their enemies.
First discovered in 1801 by a professor of mineralogy in Mexico City, vanadium, whose symbol V is based on the Norse goddess Vanadis, has some rare qualities that give it the ability to make materials stronger, lighter, more efficient and more powerful. Adding small percentages of it to steel and aluminum creates ultra-high-strength, super-light and resilient alloys.
Just two pounds of vanadium added to a tonne of steel doubles its strength, so it is unsurprising that 80% of vanadium is used to make ferrovanadium – a steel additive.
Henry Ford was the first to use vanadium on an industrial scale, in the 1908 Model T car chassis. But it is only recently that auto makers have discovered that adding vanadium to car bodies makes them lighter and stronger.
Mont Sorcier Vanadium Project
Twenty years ago no vanadium went into cars, versus around 45 percent today. By 2025, it’s estimated that 85 percent of all automobiles will incorporate vanadium alloy to reduce their weight, thereby increasing their fuel efficiency to conform to stringent fuel economy standards set by the US EPA. Who would have thought any material could make steel ‘greener’?
Vanadium’s corrosion-resistant properties make it ideal for tubes and pipes manufactured to carry chemicals. Vanadium-titanium alloys have the best strength-to-weight ratio of any engineered material on earth. Less than one percent of vanadium and as little chromium makes steel shock and vibration resistant. A thin layer of vanadium is used to bond titanium to steel, making it ideal for aerospace applications. Mixing titanium with vanadium and iron strengthens and adds durability to turbines that spin up to 70,000 rpm.
Since vanadium does not easily absorb neutrons it has important applications in nuclear power. Vanadium pentoxide (V2O5) permanently fixes dyes to fabrics. Vanadium oxide is utilized as a pigment for ceramics and glass, as a chemical catalyst, and to produce superconducting magnets.
Of course, the latest application for vanadium is for batteries, particularly vanadium redox flow batteries used for grid energy storage, of which vanadium pentoxide is the main ingredient.
“This is a market that should, by all reasonable practical means, grow over the next five to 15, maybe 20 years, as we get more and more into decentralized electrical generation. And the vanadium redox flow battery will definitely fit into that category,” said John Priestner, President and CEO of Vanadium One Energy Corp (TSX.V:VONE, Frankfurt:9VR1) in a recent talk with Aheadoftheherd.com.
Vanadium One’s Mont Sorcier Vanadium Project is considered one of the largest and one of the highest grade sources of North American vanadium under development.