There’s an underrated metal that’s used in new batteries today that stores large amounts of energy almost indefinitely, and is perfect for solar power and wind farms. Vanadium is slowly becoming a crucial part of the renewables revolution. The best part is that there are loads of it lying around in industrial dumps.
As the 22nd most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, Vanadium can be found in more than 100 different minerals. It may just be the most beautiful metal of all, although it’s rarely found naturally in its metallic form.
Various forms of vanadium turn into bright, bold colors once it’s extracted and dissolved in water. It’s one reason why it was named “Vanadis”, the old Norse name for the Scandinavian goddess of beauty, Freyja.
Aside from being pretty to look at, it is also strong. Adding small percentages of it creates exceptionally light, tough and more resilient steel alloys.
Today, the vast majority of vanadium is used in structural steel, mainly to build bridges and buildings.
Its unique properties of vanadium make it ideal for a new type of batteries – redox flow batteries.
Vanadium is used in batteries as it can convert back and forth from its various different states, which can carry different positive charges. As only one material is used, the risk of cross-contamination is eliminated. The liquids have an indefinite life, so the replacement costs are low and there are no waste disposal problems. Also, the battery is extended to a potentially infinite lifetime.
In flow batteries, the energy production and capacity are independent. Energy is stored in tanks, whereas the capacity depends only on the amount of liquid stored. This provides a great design flexibility that other batteries do not allow. They are also safer, as the two liquids don’t mix causing a sudden release of energy. Even President Obama is impressed.
The downside of the vanadium flow batteries is that it is too big and heavy to replace the traditional lithium batteries found in mobile phones. V-flow batteries are typically used for large, stationary long-term energy storage, supply energy to remote areas, or to provide backup power.
Studies have shown that vanadium batteries can be a sustainable solution. They are now the basis for a more efficient, reliable, and cleaner electrical energy market.
We will be liberated from the need to maintain rapidly-accessible energy generation such as coal or gas when we can build huge stores of energy to access as required.
The EU considers vanadium a critical metal for strategic energy technologies because of its ability to store electricity would reduce reliance on gas and coal, increasing fuel security and cut CO2 emissions, also helping to meet agreed emissions targets.
Vanadium is now in a medium risk of supply shortage and a high political risk. The hunt for this metal is currently dominated by China, South Africa, Russia and the US.
But about 70% of the vanadium above ground is unused, left in industrial wastes such as mine tailings, debris or steel slags.
A 2016 published study found that an estimated 43% of the annual global production of vanadium could be recovered from alkaline wastes, such as steel slag, red mud, fly ashes from coal energy production, and construction and demolition waste.