QEM Limited (ASX:QEM) Managing Director Gavin Loyden, QEM Director of Communications Joanne Bergamin and Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos of the University of New South Wales provide an introduction to vanadium.Gavin Loyden:
Vanadium, which has the elemental number of 23 on the periodic table, is a silvery grey, ductile transition metal, primarily used in the production of high-strength steel and alloys, and may be found in several diverse mineral deposit types. Vanadium is named after Vanadis, the goddess of beauty in Scandinavian mythology, due to its changing colours as it transitions through various oxidation states.
The history of this little-known metal officially began with vanadium's discovery in 1801 by a mineralogy professor in Mexico City. However, it can also be traced back to very ancient times. The famous Sword of Damascus, produced from vanadium-rich, iron deposits in south India, is said to have been so sharp that it could split a hair dropped on a blade or easily slice through a steel helmet.
With recent requirements to increase vanadium levels in construction metals within the developing world, vanadium demand is set to increase significantly. A small percentage of vanadium added to steel or aluminium makes these products significantly stronger, lighter, more efficient and more resistant to wear and tear.
Henry Ford was the first to use vanadium in the industrial setting, in the construction of the first Model T Fords, strengthening the chassis and providing greater resilience. Today, approximately 45 per cent of all cars contain vanadium, and that's growing quickly.
In aviation and aerospace, vanadium's strength and thermal stability is irreplaceable. Vanadium is utilised in the manufacture of aircraft frames, hinges, the Aerojet engines and gas turbines themselves, which are now manufactured in 3D printers.
Smart glass windows coated with vanadium dioxide are capable of providing massive energy savings to new buildings by preventing heat loss through the winter and avoiding the sun's infrared radiation in the summer.
Chemical applications for vanadium include catalysts, dyes, phosphors, electronics, ceramic pigments and in producing semi-conducting magnets.
The most exciting application for vanadium is in energy storage. The first vanadium redox flow batteries were developed in Australia at the University of New South Wales back in the 1980s by Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos. The vanadium redox flow battery exploits the unique ability of vanadium to exist in solution in four different oxidation states, and uses this property to make the battery that is just one electroactive element instead of two.
Here, vanadium pentoxide has the potential to be used in large-scale renewable projects that will revolutionise the green energy industry. Vanadium flow batteries are characterised as being compact, non-flammable and reusable over thousands of cycles, with a very fast response time.Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos:
Vanadium batteries especially are based on water. They don't have any flammable solvents. And so, so much safer than lithium batteries. And I think that's an important area that people need to be aware of, especially with very large megawatt-scale systems.Gavin Loyden:
Eighty-five per cent of the world's vanadium is now coming from South Africa, China and Russia combined. Vanadium mining has not traditionally been taking place in Australia, but now with the technological advances in battery storage of renewable energy, it is really prompting a boom in the vanadium exploration and development in the mineral-rich north-west Queensland.Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos:
Once we start producing more vanadium, then the supply will become stable, and the cost and the price will also stabilise. So, that's why I'm keen to see more production, especially here in Australia.Joanne Bergamin:
QEM's flagship Julia Creek vanadium and oil shale project covers a 250 square kilometre holding just 16 kilometres outside the country town of Julia Creek in north-west Queensland. The project has the potential to deliver quality energy fuels and vanadium pentoxide. QEM's land around Julia Creek sits on large areas of the Toolebuc Formation, which hosts extensive vanadium mineralisation. In fact, it is one of the single largest vanadium deposits in the world. Based on limited drilling, QEM's vanadium play has a JORC-inferred resource of 2.76 billion tonnes at 0.3 per cent V205.
Julia Creek is ideally located adjacent to two highly productive freight routes. The Mount Isa rail line system includes over a thousand kilometres of track from Mount Isa to Stuart near Townsville. Likewise, the Flinders Highway links the whole north-west to Townsville's mineral processing and export facilities. Townsville is a major minerals trading gateway and key Australian military base.
Vanadium was designated a critical mineral in Australia in 2019. And in May 2020, the International Energy Agency highlighted the long-term demand for critical minerals, and the strategic importance of supply-chain security for economic and energy transition reasons. As a critical mineral, vanadium is listed for priority development and investment. Hence the rising support for projects like QEM's at Julia Creek in north-west Queensland, from all levels of government in Australia.Ends