Expert guide: Why vanadium may be the next lithium or cobalt

Date: Nov 14, 2017

When it comes to batteries, all eyes are on lithium and cobalt stocks — but expert Gavin Wendt says there’s plenty of opportunity in Vanadium.

Why Vanadium?

The price rise of lithium has been spectacular and is directly correlated with the expansion of renewable energy over recent years, especially wind and solar. One of the largest issues with wind and solar energy sources is the need to store and release the electrical energy produced. Lithium fulfils this storage role in its use in lithium-ion batteries.

Vanadium however is an energy option that I believe we should be watching more closely, as it is used in a promising storage technology known as vanadium redox flow batteries, which will boost overall demand for vanadium.

Flow batteries use liquid energy sources to generate electricity.

Where is supply of Vanadium coming from?

Vanadium is produced as a by-product of steel-smelter slag and also mined in two different types of mineral deposits — carbon-rich deposits and shales, as well as magnetite (iron oxide) deposits alongside titanium.

Vanadium’s main use is as an additive in high-strength steel, which accounts for about 92 per cent of the global demand of about 100,000 tonnes of contained vanadium (about 180,000t V2O5 equivalent).

Vanadium is used in the creation of metal alloys that withstand extreme conditions, such as those used in jet engines.

Around 5 per cent of vanadium is used in catalysts and chemical applications.

How do vanadium redox flow batteries stack up against lithium batteries?

Lithium-ion batteries have taken the lion’s share of the energy storage market so far. However technological advances in flow batteries are both bringing down costs and improving their safety and environmental profile.

Compared to lithium-ion batteries, vanadium redox flow batteries (VRB) are non-flammable,
environmentally friendly, have estimated life-spans in excess of 10,000 cycles and maintain 90 per cent of their capacity over 20 years, thereby lowering the total cost of ownership.

By comparison, getting 1000 cycles of use out of a lithium-ion battery with full depth of discharge would be ambitious.

VRBs are ideal for “grid-constrained” solar and wind-farms that struggle to sell their electricity at times of peak production and find other forms of storage uneconomical.

VRBs boast a longer continuous discharge run time (6-10 hours versus 2-5 hours) than lithium-ion batteries. The downside however is their relatively lower round-trip efficiency (measured by power out over power in) of 70 per cent compared to 85 per cent with lithium batteries.

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