Steve LeVine, Future Editor at Axios and Senior Fellow at The Atlantic Council, has called it “one of the most confounding areas of research” and a “technology that, while invented more than two centuries ago, is still frustrating scientists.” It is also one of the areas where one of the key growth industries – the electronic vehicle segment – is making massive investments to achieve breakthroughs: We’re talking about battery technology.
Supply concerns for the materials underpinning this technology are increasingly forcing automakers and other industries relying on energy storage, such as utilities, to step up their efforts both boost the amount of energy batteries can store and diversify materials used to achieve these efficiencies.
Lithium, Cobalt and Nickel have long been the shining stars of battery technology, but there is a new kid on the block – particularly in the area of stationary storage.
Simon Moores, member of the ARPN panel of experts and Managing Director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, believes that Vanadium’s time to shine may have come. Addressing attendees of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence’s World Tour in Melbourne Australia, Moores said that “if the vanadium market gets a number of key [mines] up and running quickly, vanadium flow could have its ‘lithium ion battery moment’ — its Elon Musk moment.”
Traditionally known as an alloying component in various steels, where its strengthening properties come to bear, Vanadium has been used in the building and construction industry for a long time. Ferrovanadium alloys have also been used in protective military vehicles while a Titanium-Aluminum-Vanadium alloy is used in jet engines and high-speed aircraft. While Vanadium flow battery technology has been around for a while, first-generation batteries were mired by inefficiencies ad costliness. Initial breakthroughs in 2011 increased storage capacity of Vanadium by 70 percent – and more R&D is continuing to yield further improvements. Vanadium flow battery technology today, however, is considered well established and commercially viable, leading Moores and his colleagues to estimate that by 2028, 50 percent of the “burgeoning stationary storage market will be lithium-ion, and 25 per cent vanadium flow batteries.”
This emerging development, in turn, invites a theme that is very familiar for ARPN followers — the co-product challenge. As we have previously pointed out:
“According to USGS, Vanadium [ a co-product of Aluminum ] is at least as plentiful as Nickel and Zinc, at least in terms of its availability in the earth’s crust. However, it rarely occurs in deposits that can be economically mined for the element alone. Between 2009 and 2013, some co-product vanadium production occurred domestically (though not from Bauxite mining for Aluminum), but it has since been suspended. As a result, the United States is currently 100% import dependent for its domestic Vanadium needs – in spite of the fact that ‘domestic resources and secondary recovery are adequate to supply a large portion of domestic needs.’
This once more begs the question – isn’t it time for a more comprehensive approach to mineral resource policy?”
The inclusion of Vanadium on the Department of Interior’s list of 35 minerals deemed critical to U.S. national security was a logical first step. Now appropriate policy reforms must follow.