Vanadium. It's one of the many metals we recover at Environmental Solutions (Asia). Here is an outline of the origin and applications of this precious metal.
1. Facts and figures
- Chemical name V23
- Vanadium was discovered two times, 1801 and 1830
- Vanadium compound occurs in 65 different minerals
- Melting point at 1926 degrees Celsius
- Used as an alloy since the early 1900s
- Nearly all tools made of steel contain small amounts of Vanadium
2. Natural occurrence and mining
Vanadium is a rather common material in the earth crust as it makes up for 120 ppm of it. It is in its pure form hard but malleable and shows a silvery grey colour. Even though it shows a comparably high concentration in the earth's crust, Vanadium is very spread and not many reservoirs with a mentionable concentration of vanadium are known.
The most common natural mining sites are in South Africa, China and Russia. These countries account for the highest share of mined Vanadium (97%). Vanadium can be mined from various minerals, a common one is carnotite. Out of this ore, Vanadium is mined as a side product from uranium mining since the 1920s. Today, a good share of Vanadium comes from Magnetite. Titanomagnetite for example is used to produce iron and Vanadium extraction then takes place from slag.
This metal serves as a useful ingredient for high-strength low-alloy steels, tool steels and steel castings. It can also be used in other alloys such as ferrovanadium consisting of 35-85% Vanadium. Only small amounts of Vanadium (>0.2%) improve the qualities of steel. It gets more ductility and strength this way so alloys with it can be used for example in automotive parts or in oil and gas pipelines.
Even in Titanium alloys, Vanadium can add good qualities such as improved strength and heat resistance. These alloys serve their use in parts of aircrafts such as engines and wings.
A newer applications are Vanadium Redox Flow batteries, needed to store large amounts of electric energy as produced by solar and wind for example.
In catalytic converters, Vanadium supports the oxidation of sulfur dioxide when it is exposed to air. We recycle those catalytic converters and repurpose Vanadium. So the metal which has been extracted in a cumbersome way does not go to landfill and can be reused again and again.
Vanadium pigments are also useful for the production of the color tone aniline black which can color cotton, silk and ceramics.
4. An Alternative to Mining