Vanadium: A Critical Mineral Catalyst for Grid-Scale Storage

When the United States Geological Survey listed vanadium as a critical mineral in 2022, the announcement came as a public acknowledgement of the metal’s emerging value in the United States. Vanadium has historically proven to be an essential mineral commodity for industrial and aerospace applications. But as it stands today, the vast majority of the United States’ supply relies on imports from foreign countries like Russia and China.

Now, at a time when demand for the critical mineral is growing, a new market for vanadium is also emerging: grid-scale storage.

“About 80 to 90 percent of the vanadium consumption is currently for steel production, because a small percentage of vanadium – about two percent – literally doubles the strength of steel,” said Ron Espell, president of Nevada Vanadium. “But there’s been a growing interest on the battery side with vanadium flow batteries being able to provide grid-level power storage.”

A perennial challenge for renewable energy development has been and continues to be long-duration, grid-scale storage. When renewable sources produce energy, such as when the sun shines or the wind blows, the timing doesn’t always align with the higher energy consumption hours for the general public – typically in the evening.

Vanadium, however, has properties that are conducive for long-duration, grid-scale energy storage. Now, with increasing financial incentives for renewable energy development, the market for vanadium flow batteries appears to be maturing.

“Vanadium flow batteries have been around for a long time,” said Terry Perles, the director of U.S. Vanadium. “If we go back to 1990, there were efforts to commercialize these batteries, but there wasn’t a market. But now, we see the confluence of technology development to build these batteries.”

As a battery source, vanadium has different characteristics compared to its better-known counterpart – lithium-ion batteries. Whereas lithium is conducive to short-term battery applications such as rechargeable electronic devices and cars, vanadium could be more suitable to the long-term storage needs of power grids.

“One of the problems with lithium ion is the fact that you see capacity fade over time,” Perles said. “For a grid-level battery, you’re investing in a technology for 20 or 30 years. After about 800 cycles with a lithium battery, or about three years, you’re going to have to start replacing 20 percent or more of those cells every year because of this issue.”

While known to be generally safe, lithium ion batteries can be a fire hazard if damaged or not stored properly. A vanadium flow battery, however, does not seem to share these risks.

“With the vanadium battery, it’s primarily a water-based solution,” Perles said. “The life of the battery will be defined by the life of the pumps and the plastic piping in the kit, because the vanadium itself is never consumed.”

There’s also economic potential for vanadium, at least in Nevada. The Gibellini Vanadium Project has been proposed for development in Eureka County, with a record of decision by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) expected before the end of this year. The BLM recently issued the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the mine, which is overseen by Nevada Vanadium Mining Corp. If approved, Gibellini can become operational as soon as 2024 and will be the first domestic mine to primarily extract vanadium.

Despite its potential, however, concerns around the mining operation exist. Traces of uranium have been detected at the site, in addition to common mining-related issues such as groundwater depletion and contamination.

Espell, however, asserts that Nevada Vanadium has developed solutions to mitigate these concerns.

“Creating [uranium] yellowcake, which is the most stable form of uranium, has the least potential impact on human health from a transportation or spilling standpoint and has the highest resale value, so we can actually sell this material as a secondary product,” Espell said. “We’re going to be getting our water from Fish Creek Ranch and by using surface water source, we have no net impact on the water basin. Water would be diverted from hay production and about one pivot of hay is what we’d be taking away.”

Additionally, Espell said the Gibellini mine is projected to be powered with renewable energy – a somewhat novel and unrealistic approach in the traditional mining industry – and one that federal regulators have been encouraging from the beginning.

Nevada Vanadium has entered into an agreement with Hitachi Energy to meet this request with elements of the very resource it aims to advance: vanadium.

“A previous company [at the Gibellini site], designed a six-megawatt solar field with a ten-megawatt vanadium flow battery to be able to provide 100% of the mine’s power needs,” Espell said. “So we dusted that off, brought the technology up to date and put together a proposal for an alternative power source to the [Environmental Impact Statement]. We’re looking at a hybrid vanadium-lithium battery system from Hitachi Energy.”

A hybrid vanadium-lithium battery is unique in that it provides the short-term power capability lithium offers, with the long-term storage capacity of vanadium. Perles acknowledged the potential of a hybrid battery such as the one Nevada Vanadium is proposing, which makes the 10GW solar field near the proposed plant a feasible option to power the mine and serves as a real-time example of vanadium’s increasing value as a critical mineral.

“It’s a good concept,” Perles said. “Typically, [mines] are located in remote areas and so getting power is an issue. To the extent there’s wind or solar, in conjunction with those projects, this battery is a perfect match. We can produce the power whenever the wind blows or the sun shines, but we can deliver it at a very consistent rate to the plant using the battery as the buffer.”

These emerging applications for vanadium, whether in the form of a vanadium flow battery or as a hybrid vanadium-lithium battery, means that demand for the critical mineral is expected to accelerate.

“Just for grid-scale [storage], the global market today is about 125,000 metric tons of vanadium,” Perles said. “Some forecasts suggest that by 2030, we’re going to need 180,000 metric tons of vanadium per year going into these batteries. So in essence, have to more than double the supply base over the next seven years to meet those forecasts.”

Vanadium, however, can be difficult to procure – a driving factor in its listing as a critical mineral.

In the United States, vanadium is either imported, or obtained as a byproduct of other mining operations and chemical recycling. But the Gibellini mine, Espell suggests, will tip the scale toward a more direct, domestic supply chain that may meet the expected surge in demand.

“Right now, about 99 percent of vanadium is imported from Russia, China and South Africa,” Espell said. “This mine will be able to produce approximately 50 to 60 percent of the current consumption of vanadium in the United States, so we’re basically going from zero to 50 to 60 percent of domestically produced vanadium with the Gibellini mine.”

While awaiting a record of decision from the Bureau of Land Management, Nevada Vanadium is now finalizing other formalities in the permitting process before it seeks financing for the project.

“We’re finishing up the feasibility studies and permitting for the project, so we haven’t set up any offtake agreements yet for the vanadium,” said Espell. “But as we go into project financing, our focus is domestic consumption of the vanadium.”

Assuming the Gibellini Vanadium Mine moves forward as proposed, Nevada’s position as a critical mineral and renewable energy leader may be further solidified.

“Nevada prides itself on developing as an energy state,” Espell said. “Not only is [the Gibellini Vanadium Project] good for Nevada in development of energy resources, but the idea of the diversification of critical minerals other than gold provides better economic diversification for the county and the state.”

According to Perles, the Gibellini Vanadium Project’s operations would be coming at the appropriate time.

“There’s plenty of incentives out there right now to support the ongoing development of renewable energy sources,” Perles said. “Everyone’s familiar with lithium ion, but we have to think about new technologies and [vanadium] is a technology whose time has come.”


Nevada Vanadium – Emerging Critical Metal Vanadium Producer in the United States

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