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Vanadium isn’t exactly what we think of when we speak of technology. But it’s one of the world’s most important metals and is likely to become even more significant as renewable energies look to dominate the fossil fuel industry.
Vanadium’s primary use is as a steel alloy to help strengthen metals. It also makes them lighter, provides greater efficiency, and more power. By adding small amounts of it to steel and aluminum, it creates ultra-strength and resilient alloys. In fact, only two pounds of vanadium added to a tonne of steel is able to double its strength – 80 percent of vanadium is used to make ferrovanadium, a steel additive.
Henry Ford was the first person to use vanadium on an industrial scale in the 1908 Model T car Chassis. Vanadium didn’t take off in modern society until recently when automakers have discovered that using it to car bodies makes them lighter and substantially stronger. Today, 45% of vanadium goes into cars, and it is estimated that 85% will be used in manufacturing auto vehicles by 2025. This will reduce the weight of cars, thereby increasing their fuel efficiency and be able to meet fuel economy standards.
Vanadium is highly corrosion-resistant, and that makes it ideal for tubes and pipes that are manufactured to carry chemicals. Vanadium-titanium alloys have the greatest strength-to-weight ratio of any engineered material on earth. Less than one percent of vanadium, and chromium makes steel shock and vibration resistant. A thick layer of vanadium is used to bond titanium to steel, which makes it great for aerospace applications.
Mixing titanium with vanadium and iron makes wind turbines able to spin up to 70,000 rpm, strengthening its durability. Vanadium is also ideal when it comes to nuclear power applications. Vanadium pentoxide permanently fixes dues to fabrics and is used as a pigment for glass and ceramics. It’s also used to produce superconducting magnets. Currently, the latest application is for batteries, specifically vanadium redox flow batteries that are used for grid energy storage.
Around 85% of the world’s vanadium comes from China, Russia, and South Africa. The greatest mines where vanadium is found are in the Bushveld Complex in South Africa, which is responsible for a quarter of all vanadium supply. It is also found in the Maracas mine in Brazil, and the EVRAZ’s Vanady Tula mine in Russia.
It is typically mined as a byproduct, not a primary mineral. It is agglomerated with titanium, which is separated out during processing. When there are higher titanium levels in the ore, it makes it more difficult to remove the vanadium, and the end product is vanadium pentoxide, which is used for ferrovanadium use in steel.
The latest reports indicate that vanadium demand and supply intersect at around 80,000 tonnes a year.
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