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
Lipmann Walton & Co Ltd’s interest in Vanadium is in the smallest fraction of this market - pure Vanadium metal.
We have tried over the years to estimate what proportion of the approx 90,000 mt market this segment represents - but statistics are hard to come by. Our best estimate is less than 30 mt per year, which means that Vanadium output in metal form is little more than 0.03% of world supply.
We are the largest stockist of Vanadium metal in Europe. We trade electron-beam (EB) melted Vanadium ingots of Russian production as well as Vanadium chips for customers who require smaller sizes.
Size of market and main uses
By contrast, the largest quantity - maybe as much as 90% - of the world’s 90,000 mt approx of Vanadium output, finds its way into steel, in the form of Ferro Vanadium required for strength. Of the remaining quantities, perhaps 5% will find its way into Aluminium Vanadium master alloys used for alloying with Titanium for aerospace applications.
However, the remaining 5% of uses are diverse and include colour for glass and ceramics (orange), use in petroleum catalysts, as well as its new use in grid-scale ReDox (oxidation-reduction) batteries, connected to solar or wind powered energy sources.
The largest proportion of Vanadium is produced in China with over 20% from Russia (Evraz) with a further 13% or so from South Africa, and a large proportion of this split between primary mining and recycling from steel.
Recent market activity & Prices
In 2018, China scheduled a change in steel re-bar specification, to make buildings safer, stronger and more earthquake proof. But the new requirements together with China’s policy to reduce polluting metallurgical processes caused a price hike in FeV from about $25 per kg V all the way up to $110 per kg V. Prices have since returned to pre-hike levels but analysis of the specific causes for the price rise are interesting.
As regards re-bar, the new Chinese laws had prescribed the use of re-bar grades as follows, depending upon application, Grade 3 (400MPa) V 0.03%, Grade 4 (500MPa) V 0.06%, and Grade 5 (600MPa) V 0.1%.
But in the same year as these specifications were to be introduced China, with the aim of improving the environment, clamped down on polluting processes used to extract Vanadium via recycling. This included a ban on the import of Russian vanadium-containing steel slag (circa V 20%) as well as spent vanadium containing petroleum catalysts (with as much as 10% V). The ban on these vanadium bearing imports resulted in a loss of 10% of world supply.