Discovered in 1831, Vanadium is a metal named after the Swedish Goddess of Beauty and Fertility due to the brilliant and attractive colours of the chemical compounds in which it was first found.
Today, Vanadium is less known for its visual beauty and instead for its strength, weldability and resistance to corrosion and high temperatures when alloyed with steel.
However, as you’ll see from this article, Vanadium’s application in the energy sector, especially future renewables, could once again see this element shine as bright as it did almost 200 years ago.
The element’s ability to sustain the strength of steel at high temperatures makes it an essential addition to much of the steel that is used in power generation and power plants.
Vanadium carbides have been used for over five decades in electricity generation, serving to reinforce the steel that’s used in critical parts of steam turbines and boilers.
Incredibly, vanadium can provide resistance to creep corrosion and fatigue of turbine casting, rotors and disk blades at extreme temperatures of 580°C. Meanwhile, it also resists erosion from water droplets in low-pressure turbines where temperatures can plummet to 350°C.
Once the electricity is generated, it must be carried to towns and cities by copper and aluminium cables. These cables are supported by steel poles and towers, forming “transmission routes” to any area that requires electricity.
Naturally, some of these routes are long, covering a lot of difficult and remote terrain, so it’s essential that the towers are as lightweight and as easy to transport and erect as possible.
You’ve guessed it, vanadium steps in again to reduce the weight of the steel transmission towers while retaining strength and durability.
And, it’s not just electrical energy generation and distribution that Vanadium plays a huge role in, the element’s ability to strengthen and resist corrosion while still being weldable makes it a perfect choice for oil and gas pipelines.
These pipelines are commonly laid in the arctic region, where ambient temperatures are very low and cause brittleness in regular steel.
Vanadium steel is also weldable and not susceptible to hydrogen cracking, which is essential for producing pipelines, as well as the valves and bends required for their operation.
Vanadium has saved the traditional energy sector a lot of money and resources over the past few decades when it comes to producing and transporting electricity, oil and gas. But, the element continues to make waves in the renewable energy sector too, and Vanadium is arguably one of the most important metals in our future.
In a similar way to how transmission towers benefit from Vanadium steel’s lightweight and durable properties, wind turbine towers are also frequently made with vanadium microalloyed HSLA steel plates.
There are also ongoing investigations researching how Vanadium could be used in fusion reactors.
Aside from this though, Vanadium is also being used in Vanadium Redox Flow Batteries (VRFB), which are particularly suited for community-scale green energy storage thanks to their long-life cycles, ability to be discharged for long periods of time and safe, non-flammable properties.
VRFB charge and discharge without wearing out in the same way that lithium-based batteries do, making them ideal for storing energy from renewable sources like solar, wind and wave power and then releasing it as and when it’s required.
At GSAe, our core technology supports this future by recovering vanadium from ‘secondary sources’, such as refinery residues (heavy ends, vacuum residue catalysts etc), ash created in oil-fired power stations and desalination plants, and TiO2 waste.
This is a more environmentally-beneficial method to traditional means as it recovers the vanadium (and other metals) from a source that has already been extracted and would otherwise be wasted in landfill. This does not replace other methods of production in terms of scale, but adds to and improves raw material usage.