Lipmann Walton & Co Ltd’s main interest in vanadium is in the smallest fraction of this market – that is to say, vanadium in pure metal form, which is used in a small selection of super-alloys, sputtering targets, special wires.
This industry, low in volume but high in value, relies on a very small selection of producers mainly in the CIS. Here, the former Russian State Standard of production (GOST) lives on in the specification of commercially pure ingots VNM-1 and VNM-2, V99.5%.
However, by contrast, the greatest volume of vanadium is used in the steel industry, where this element is consumed as either vanadium-pentoxide (V2O5) or ferro-vanadium. The size of this market is about 125,000 metric tons per year and the main producing areas are South Africa and China.
So, where does the ordinary citizen come into contact with Vanadium metal? You may not realise it, but the most likely place you will find this element will be in your household tools – (so-called ‘Vanadium steel’) used because of its durability and strength in spanners, wrenches or the axles in your car. In industry, the factories producing industrial goods will have molds, tools, and other machines made from alloys with varying proportions of tungsten, chrome or molybdenum in a range of alloys called ‘high speed steels’. It is because of Vanadium’s use in the production of special steel alloys, including high-speed steels that these items can withstand high temperatures without losing their hardness.
Other interesting uses include, in the form of V2O5 powder, pigments to create the colour yellow/orange, which is used in ceramic and glass applications.
In other areas, such as the titanium industry, the addition of 4% vanadium with 6% aluminium increases strength and contributes to the quality of titanium alloy used for high strength parts in aerospace where lightness and strength is required. The body of Russian Komsomolets-class nuclear submarines was made from a Russian titanium alloy called PT3V – containing Al 3.5-5.0% and V 1.2-2.5%. During the post-Soviet Union break-up, large plates cut from the hulls of these vessels, scrapped in Murmansk, found their way to Sheffield as solid scrap for melting into ferro-titanium for stainless steel. It is possible, thus, that your knife and fork or car body might have a small part of a Russian submarine contained within it.
It is a principle of this market (in regard to its use in steel) that when prices for Vanadium rise too high it is substitutable by niobium in a variety of instances – such as special steels for seamless oil & gas pipelines, provided that this shows a price advantage.
It was discovered in 1801 by A.M. del Rio in Mexico City. After being told that this discovery was nothing more than impure chromium, del Rio abandoned his research. The metal was rediscovered in 1830, by N.G. Selfstorm in Falun, Sweden. He named this beautiful multicoloured ore ‘Vanadium’, in honour of the Scandinavian goddess of beauty and love Vanadis.
It is a shiny, silvery metal which is soft when pure. However, during oxidation states, vanadium takes different colours and becomes more toxic. The toxicity isn’t lethal but can cause irritation of the eyes, throat, skin etc.
It has good corrosion resistance to alkalis, sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid, and saltwater, due to a protective film of oxide on the surface.
It occurs in 65 minerals, including vanadinite [Pb5Cl(VO4)]. The pure metal can be obtained by reducing the oxide with calcium. It burns on heating in oxygen or chlorine, dissolves in HNO3 and slowly dissolves in hot concentrated H2SO4 and fused alkalis.
Vanadium also forms a range of complexes with oxidation states from +2 to +5. As a result of this variable oxidation state some new technologies have emerged. Recently, there has been much excitement in the scientific community for new batteries which utilize Vanadium Oxide electrolytes. These cells hold great potential to provide consistent power to areas where uninterrupted fossil fuel-based electricity is not yet available because they can reliably store power from renewable sources such as solar or wind power.
Its main uses are in alloys, chrome plating and metal ceramics.
Chromium is a human poison by ingestion, it is also a suspected carcinogen. Chromates have a corrosive action on the skin.
Relative atomic mass
31 W/ m/K