Is Vanadium The Next Big Commodity In Energy Storage?

What is Vanadium?

Vanadium (V) is a hard, silver-grey metallic element. It is a ductile transition metal with a natural resistance to corrosion and stability against alkalis, acids and salt water. More than 65 different minerals and fossil fuel deposits include element. These deposits include vanadinite, carnotite, roscoelite and patronite. The production of steel alloys uses vanadium as a catalyst for the aerospace industry; in the making of ceramics, glasses, and pigments; and in vanadium redox batteries (VRBs) for large-scale storage of electricity.

Uses of Vanadium

Strengthening Steel Alloys

One of the primary uses is in the production of high-strength steel alloys. By adding a small percentage (often less than 0.2%), the strength, toughness, and wear resistance of steel are significantly enhanced. This vanadium-infused steel finds its way into high-stress applications such as car chassis, gears, axles, and crankshafts, where durability and resilience are paramount. Moreover, in construction, vanadium steel is used in reinforcing bars and beams, offering structures greater resistance to stress and environmental elements.

Aerospace and Defense

In the aerospace and defense industries, vanadium’s lightweight and strong characteristics make it an invaluable material. Alloys containing vanadium are used in jet engines and airframes, contributing to the overall strength and performance while minimizing weight. The high-temperature stability of these alloys also makes them ideal for internal components of jet engines, where they can withstand extreme heat without deforming or losing strength.

Manufacturing Tools and Machinery

Tools and machinery that require high durability and resistance to wear and heat benefit greatly from vanadium alloys. High-speed tool steels are used to make drill bits, cutting tools, and other machinery that must maintain sharp edges and dimensional stability at high temperatures. Vanadium’s contribution to such tools translates into longer lifespans, reduced maintenance costs, and greater efficiency in industrial processes.


Advantages of Vanadium

One of the most significant advantages of vanadium is its ability to improve the strength, hardness, and resistance to wear and corrosion of steel and other alloys. When added to steel, even in small amounts, it increases tensile strength and toughness, allowing for the development of lighter, more durable structures. This enhancement is crucial for the automotive, construction, and aerospace industries, where the integrity and longevity of materials are paramount.

Vanadium Redox Batteries (VRBs)

Vanadium redox flow batteries (VRFBs) are a type of rechargeable flow battery that utilizes vanadium ions in different oxidation states to store and release energy. These batteries are particularly suited for large-scale energy storage applications, such as storing electricity generated from renewable sources like solar and wind power.

Advantages of the VRBs

  • Scalability and Flexibility: The energy capacity of VRFBs can be easily scaled by increasing the volume of the electrolyte stored in the tanks, making it a flexible solution for various applications.
  • Long Life Cycle: VRFBs can undergo thousands of charge and discharge cycles with minimal degradation, offering a lifespan of 20 years or more, which is significantly longer than that of many other battery types.
  • Safety: VRFBs are inherently safe, with low flammability and low risk of explosion compared to lithium-ion batteries, making them suitable for use in a wide range of environments.
  • Energy Efficiency: They exhibit high energy efficiency rates, typically between 75% and 85%, depending on the specific design and operating conditions.

In the coming years, global demand for vanadium will grow quickly throughout the aerospace and battery industry. With the anticipated rise in demand of electric vehicles (EVs), VRBs will be essential for this transition. With the anticipated increase in demand and the limited supply currently available, there will be a need to identify new sources and optimizing the extraction from currently defined sources. 

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