Vanadium is primarily used as a strengthening alloy to steel and titanium. When combined with steel, vanadium forms carbides and promotes fine grain size, which makes the final alloy product, vanadium steel, very strong, light and resistant to harsh conditions. One kilogram of vanadium added to one tonne of steel can increase the strength up to 80 per cent. Vanadium can also be used in the other industries for energy storage and other purposes. If we look back in history, we can observe that vanadium was used in ancient Damascus swords and was also used by Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company. The demand for vanadium has been increasing worldwide, as the consumption of steel increases. Particularly, the demand for vanadium has been increasing in China to meet the higher strength requirement of metal alloys.
The strength of vanadium requires less use of other alloys to reach the desired high strength, therefore, less materials are needed to produce equipment, which supports the green initiatives as it further reduces our environment footprint. When less materials are used, the equipment is lighter and thus consumes less fuel. Using vanadium in mining hauling trucks could be a significant advantage to further reduce the footprint, already caused by the enormous amount of fuel used in mining operations.
Another use of vanadium is to build vanadium redox flow batteries (VRFB). These are essentially rechargeable batteries which uses one kind of liquid solution – a vanadium electrolyte. These batteries can basically store a high amount of renewable energy to be used later. In the long-term energy storage and usage, this type of battery is a cost-competitive alternative to lithium-ion batteries, which renders it to be greener and safer. In addition, VRFB avoids cross-contamination if chemicals, giving it the advantage over lithium-ion batteries of being fire-proof. Working towards developing this new alternative might be interesting for the future of electric mines. Of course, the current technologies that allow us to develop an all electric mine is already a huge success, but there is always room for development.
A strategic mineral Company based in Toronto, Largo, focuses on the production of vanadium flake and powder. Largo has operations in Brazil and basically exports the vanadium product to North America, Europe and Asia. The Company is the highest-grade producer of vanadium with a grade of 1.15 per cent V205 and a magnetic concentrate of 3.21 per cent V205.
The future relies on innovative concepts to meet our needs while consuming less to leave a smaller footprint. Many projects undergo several years of research before getting implemented. Perhaps, it is best to invest right now to ensure and maintain a green future.