Originally named erythronium by del Rio, the silvery-white soft metal is reported to be the 22ndmost abundant element within the earth’s crust. Despite this, we are only now beginning to grasp the mineral’s vast potential.

If vanadium is known for anything, it’s steel. Added in small quantities – as little as 0.15% – vanadium is proven to double the strength of the alloy.

Henry Ford was one of the first exponents of the metal, using it to strengthen the Model T – the car credited with introducing the automotive industry to the masses in the early 1900s.

A few years later, vanadium was sported on the battleground, used in the manufacture of body armour in the First World War. Since then, it has made its way into everything from engine turbines and drill bits to spanners and saws.

However, it is within the construction industry where demand for vanadium is at its highest.

“The current major driver of vanadium demand is in the construction industry, which is the largest consumer of steel products and vanadium,” explains Gavin Wendt, founding director and senior resource analyst at Minelife in Australia.

“It is extensively used in alloys for strengthening of steel used in buildings, tunnels and bridges. In North America, rolled vanadium steel sections are used extensively in frames and roofs of industrial buildings.”

Steel story: Vanadium in the construction industry

Around 90% of vanadium is used within the steel industry. Given the growth in global steel demand seen in 2017– predicted to reach 1.535 billion tonnes by the time 2018 comes around – vanadium has “performed extremely well this year,” says Wendt.

However, it is the remaining 10% window that is starting to stir interest among investors – particularly those in green tech circles. Vanadium’s potential in energy storage – in the form of vanadium-flow batteries – could, say some, change the face of renewable energy.

Able to charge in the blink of any eye and expand in capacity, vanadium-flow batteries are proven to last for decades. While talk presently abounds of commercialisation, Chris Berry, founder of New York-based research firm House Mountain Partners, points out the technology has actually existed for over 30 years.

“The history of experimenting with the vanadium redox battery (VRB) actually stretches back decades, but the first true VRB was demonstrated in 1986 in Australia using vanadium in solution,” he says.