Vanadium and Steel

Most Vanadium consumption (up to 98%) is as ferrovanadium (a mixture of iron and vanadium). Vanadium has been used as a steel additive since the late 1800s when "vanadium steel" was used to armor the hull of battleships making them impenetrable to explosive shells. Only a small amount of Vanadium significantly increases the strength, hardness, and high temperature stability of steel. Its electron deficient structure lends itself well to the formation of more stable nitrides and carbides when added to iron and as such vanadium has been referred to as the "electric metal". Applications of vanadium can be found today in machinery and tools but its greatest demand is in construction and transportation (automotive, aviation and aerospace).

Vanadium in Construction

Vanadium is a strategic metal that is the best strengthening agent for steel.  Only a small amount of Vanadium is required to dramatically increase the tensile strength of steel, making Vanadium one of the most cost-effective additives in steel alloys.

Today’s vanadium demand is driven by increased steel production primarily in China, India and the developing world. At the same time, various economic and legislative factors are increasing the use of vanadium in the steel industry, like stronger rebar to reduce catastrophic destruction in earthquake prone regions as well as providing the necessary strength demanded by cutting edge architectural design. As a result, the demand for vanadium is expected to grow at 7 percent each year from 2010 to 2025 based on the steel industry alone.

Vanadium in Transportation

Vanadium is also critical as an alloying element in various aspects of transportation including automotive, aviation and aerospace. The machinability and economic benefits of vanadium steel find it widely used in components such as axles, crankshafts, gears and chassis. In aviation and aerospace, vanadium’s strength and thermal stability is utilized in jet engines. Vanadium foil is used in cladding titanium to steel to make airframes. In this sector, vanadium is irreplaceable as there is no acceptable substitute for Vanadium in aerospace titanium alloys.  This is because Vanadium-titanium alloys have the best strength-to-weight ratio of any engineered material on earth.  As with steel alloys used in construction, only small amounts are required in order to achieve the desired critical properties for safety and performance.

NASA’s SR-71B high speed aircraft uses a titanium-aluminum-vanadium alloy in their jet engines helping them to reach altitudes of over 85,000 feet and speeds of more than 2,200 mph. (Photo: NASA)

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