Vanadium is a strategic rare chemical element with the symbol V and atomic number 23. It is a soft, silvery gray, ductile transition metal with good structural strength, a natural resistance to corrosion and stability against alkalis, acids and salt water. In nature, the element is found only in chemically combined forms occurring naturally in about 65 different minerals and in fossil fuel deposits. Vanadium is mined mostly in South Africa, north-western China, and eastern Russia. It is typically produced from steel smelter slag and from the flue dust of heavy oil, or as a by-product of uranium mining.
Roughly 63 million tonnes of contained vanadium was produced globally in 2010. Approximately 98% of that production came from vanadium-bearing magnetite found in ultramafic gabbro bodies in South Africa, north-western China, and eastern Russia.
A Steel Strengthener
Vanadium has been used to strengthen and harden steel since the late 1800s when it was used to armor steel in the hull of battle ships. It is strategic in both performance and cost. Vanadium has remarkable characteristics which give it the ability to make things stronger, lighter, more efficient and more powerful. Coined the "Electric Metal", its electron deficient structure lends itself well to the formation of more stable nitrides and carbides when added to iron. It is also referred to as the plastics of the 21st century as vanadium creates ultra high-strength and super-light alloys. Although other metals can also have similar effects on steel, only a small amount of Vanadium is required to dramatically increase its tensile strength, making Vanadium one of the most cost-effective additives in steel alloys. These unique characteristics have made vanadium essential in construction applications worldwide as earthquake torn regions such as Japan rebuild, development projects explode in response to population increases and economic initiatives and leading edge architecture push the limits of physics. Vanadium is also used as an alloying element in other industries such as aerospace, where, unlike the steel industry, there is no other metallic substitute. Vanadium-titanium alloys have the best strength-to-weight ratio of any engineered material on earth.
Vanadium has begun to play a pivotal role in the advancement of battery technology, namely in automotive (mobile) applications for electric and hybrid vehicles and in stationary energy storage applications for both renewable and conventional energy. Similar to its contribution to steel, it is Vanadium's 4 positive valence states (+2 through +5) that make it such an excellent energy storage media. Vanadium acts as a supercharger to batteries and improves the performance of what it is added to.
In the case of the car batteries (Lithium Ion Battery), Vanadium increases the energy density and voltage of the battery. This is important for the performance in electric and hybrid vehicles, as energy density equates to distance/range, while voltage equates to available torque.
In the case of energy storage systems, the Vanadium Flow Battery (VFB) is a leading energy storage system given its virtually unlimited storage capacity, long battery life, low maintenance requirements, adaptability and nominal environmental footprint.