Vanadium

Vanadium is a chemical element with symbol V and atomic number 23. It is a hard, silvery-grey, ductile, and malleable transition metal. It does not occur in native form but as a component of minerals.

Vanadium is mainly found in magnetite (iron oxide) deposits. It is also found in bauxite (aluminum ore), rocks with high concentrations of phosphorous-containing minerals, and high uranium content sandstones. Vanadium is also recovered from carbon-rich deposits such as coal, oil shale, crude oil, and tar sands.

The mineralisation style at Abenab is rare with the main mineral being descloizite, a lead-zinc vanadate (Pb,Zn)2(OH)VO4. The ore body is contained in a breccia pipe with the majority vanadium minerals contained within a red clay.

USES

The two main traded vanadium products are vanadium pentoxide (V205) and ferrovanadium (FeV). V205 is the most common intermediate product from treatment of magnetite iron ores, vanadium-bearing slags and secondary materials. It can be used directly by some non-metallurgical applications and in the production of vanadium chemicals and is also used as an intermediate product for the production of FeV, a vanadium alloy used as a strengthening or hardening agent in manufacturing of high-strength steel.

The vanadium price has seen a significant surge in the last two years, rising by more than 400 per cent from lows of US$13.50/kgV in December 2015 to highs of US$68/kgV by May 2018.

The price increase is driven by a deficit in the vanadium market, arising from a growing demand by the steel sector, with limited new supply in the near future. Approximately 90 percent of vanadium consumption is from the steel industry. The steel market is thus set to continue supporting vanadium demand, which is expected to grow, supported by the increased intensity in use of steel in emerging markets, particularly in China.

There is also the growing application of VRFBs (Vanadium Redox Flow Batteries), with current forecasts estimating that VRFBs will account for 20 per cent of vanadium consumption by 2030.

While there is growing demand for vanadium, supply remains constrained with very limited new suppliers expected to come on stream. Over 70 per cent of vanadium produced is through co-production of steel products mostly from China.

A large majority of the supply feedstock from China comes from steel plants that process low grade vanadium bearing magnetite ores to produce steel and a vanadium slag which is then further processed through a process similar to the primary production processes – salt roast and leach operations. This source of vanadium is also significantly constrained on account of:

These points, imply that there is limited scope for supply growth from existing co-producers and although a number of new projects have been announced, most of these are not primary vanadium projects. They will be facing large capital expenditure resulting in a significant share of them not coming online.

VRFBs

The energy storage market has seen aggressive growth in the past few years .
Whilst electronics and electric vehicles have attracted more media coverage in the past, utility scale applications are growing and are expected to claim a significant share of the overall energy storage market, with recent studies showing that:

• Stationary energy storage demand is growing rapidly and will exceed 300GWh by 2030; and
• While forecasts vary, most point to 20-40GWh of storage deployed annually by 2025.

The VRFBs are well positioned to take a significant share of the stationary energy storage market, as their unique features give them an edge in large scale, stationary and long duration energy storage applications. VRFB deployments continue to grow globally.

There is opportunity for stationary energy storage applications in both grid-connected and off-grid settings, including peak shaving, load shifting, transmission loss reductions, integration of renewable energy and frequency regulation. In off-grid settings, energy storage can be deployed in conjunction with local generation creating a micro-grid with secure continuous energy supply.

The use of VRFBs, has increased over the past few years and accounted for two per cent of vanadium consumption in 2017. Current forecasts estimate that VRFBs will account for 20 per cent of vanadium consumption by 2030.

Occurrences

This data is not fully indicative of available supplies because vanadium is often produced as a co-product that is not recorded in resource statements by the owners of deposits.

Further, vanadium resources in crude oils and tar sands are difficult to estimate. Vanadium that is contained in this form is often not incorporated into resource estimates.

Other regions have vanadium resources eg Canada, USA, Australia, but these are relatively small and low grade except in Brazil (Largo Resources).

More than 88% of vanadium occurs in the form of vanadiferous magnetite ores, with the balance mainly in sedimentary form such as oil residues or shales.

Processing

The vanadium bearing magnetite ores are typically processed through either smelting producing vanadium bearing slag (co-production) or the primary processing using a salt roasting and leaching operation, called Salt Roast process.

Co-production typically involves smelting magnetite ore/concentrate during which titanium slag is eliminated while vanadium and iron ore report together in hot metal from which vanadium is recovered in the form of a slag with enhanced vanadium grades.

The vanadium slag is then further processed into final vanadium product through a salt roast and leaching process (The Salt Roast process).

Co-production is the most common source of vanadium supply and accounted for 74% of supply in 2017, in primary production directly from vanadium bearing magnetite iron ores. The magnetite is processed, after concentrating through magnetic separation, directly using a salt roasting and leaching process called Salt Roast.

Primary production accounted for 14% of supply in 2017.


Secondary production from sedimentary vanadium is largely found in oil residues or shales is recovered from catalysts used during the refining of some crude oils or ash. Sedimentary vanadium is also found in stone coal geological settings. About 12% of vanadium occurs in sedimentary form.

Vanadium is extracted from these sources is converted into vanadium pentoxide (V2O5) and trioxide (V2O3). Most pentoxide is converted into ferrovanadium or nitride for use in the production of several different types and grades of high strength steel.

Abenab Ore Processing

The ore at Abenab is Desclozite, a lead zinc vanadate (Pb,Zn)2(OH)VO4. It is easily recovered by simple crushing and gravity separation with grades up to 21% achieved after concentrating. Titano-magnetite ores typically produce 1-3% V2O5 after concentrating.

Capital costs for concentrator and refinery are lower due to the simplicity of the gravity separation process and a higher grade concentrate that is produced. The refining process is less complex (low energy and reagent use) with the ability to treat through chemical based refineries compared with the large complex metallurgical processing with high energy use required for Titano-magnetite.

The by-products include lead with and zinc with grades up to 53% and 14% respectively.