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Australia's vanadium market has proven volatile over the years, but there are many potentially promising companies in the market.
Vanadium is an important element due to its non-corrosive properties and wide uses. However, due to its unstable state, pure vanadium is not often found in nature, making it rarer than many other industrial metals.
Vanadium was discovered in 1801 by scientist Andrés Manuel del Rio and was named after the Norse goddess Freyja, whose old Norse name is Vanadis. It is a non-corrosive, silver-grey transition metal with high malleability.
The metal is often embedded within compounds, such as vanadinite, carnotite, patronite and phosphate, as well as some iron ores and crude oils. Overall, vanadium is present in around 65 different minerals that naturally occur in trace amounts in some rock formations. It is generally produced by reducing vanadium oxide with calcium.
Once reduced, vanadium is usually mixed with iron to form metal alloys that are used to produce high-strength steel. This steel has various industrial uses, such as tools, jet engines, oil and gas pipelines, motor vehicle parts and bars for construction.
Aside from its key application in steel, vanadium is used to produce many other materials as well — both industrial and non-industrial — including ceramics, textile dyes, synthetic rubber, fertilizers, electronics and welding materials. It can be used to make alloys in superconductor construction and nuclear engineering thanks to its low neutron-absorbing properties. In its chemical form, vanadium is used to produce sulphuric acid, fuel cells and batteries.
Read on to learn more about this unusual metal, and which companies in Australia are focused on it.
Is there vanadium in Australia?
Vanadium’s top four producers worldwide are China, Russia, South Africa and Brazil. China is responsible for the majority of the world’s vanadium output at 66 percent, with Russia at 17 percent and South Africa at 8 percent globally. Currently, there are no vanadium mines in the US or Europe, making it a relatively untapped market for most of the western world.
While vanadium is a highly useful and versatile element, its market presence has always been shaky. This is because it is closely tied to the steel industry, meaning that when steel production increases, so does vanadium consumption. This link can cause vanadium’s price to fluctuate rapidly, plummeting and spiking in conjunction with demand for steel. For example, in 2004, vanadium was priced at just US$5.70 per pound, but by the next year its price almost tripled, coming in at US$16.89 by 2005.
Unsurprisingly, the vanadium market in Australia has similarly proved volatile over the years, with ups and downs in terms of resource availability and production. While there are quite a few vanadium-focused companies located in Australia, the country has not historically been a top producer of the metal.
Some of Australia’s existing vanadium companies include King River Resources (ASX:KRR), with its Speewah vanadium project located in the Kimberley region of Western Australia; Technology Metals Australia (ASX:TMT), with its Gabanintha project in Western Australia; and Venus Metals (ASX:VMC), with its Western Australia-based Youanmi vanadium project.
There's also Neometals (ASX:NMT,OTC Pink:RRSSF), with its vanadium-titanium Barrambie project in Western Australia; TNG (ASX:TNG,OTC Pink:TNGZF), whose Mount Peake vanadium-titanium-iron project is located in the Northern Territory; and Australian Vanadium (ASX:AVL), which owns the Australian Vanadium project located in the Murchison region.
Atlantic (ASX:ATI) acquired the Windimurra vanadium project in May 2016. The property is under development at the moment and is located in Western Australia, near Perth and Mount Magnet. It estimates a mine life of 31 years and an annual production capacity of around 7,600 tonnes of high-grade vanadium pentoxide flake.
Finally, Canada's Currie Rose Resources (TSXV:CUI) recently acquired two Australia-based vanadium projects, Toolebuc and Flinders River; the company plans to bring them together into a project called North Queensland, where the assets are both located.
What is the outlook for vanadium in Australia?
Looking ahead, Australia’s vanadium-mining potential is set to grow as interest in vanadium rises.
That is happening thanks to the metal’s critical role in battery storage technology, where it is used in vanadium redox flow batteries. According to the US Geological Survey, Australia sits on approximately 1 million tonnes of vanadium reserves.
This means vanadium mining in Australia could also experience a boom, and the up-and-coming projects mentioned above could bolster vanadium’s growth potential. Read on for a closer look at a few of them:
- Australian Vanadium's property has major project status from the Australian government and state lead agency status from the Western Australian government. A November 2021 resource update shows that its total measured, indicated and inferred resource stands at 239 million tonnes at 0.73 percent vanadium pentoxide. It is expected to produce about 11,000 tonnes of vanadium pentoxide annually, accounting for around 5 percent of vanadium output worldwide. In April of this year, the company released its bankable feasibility study, confirming the project as a potentially significant producer with an initial anticipated mine life of 25 years.
- Neometals’ permitted Barrambie titanium and vanadium project is being developed as well, with hydrometallurgical work happening and updates to follow. The project has a resource of 64.9 million tonnes of vanadium at 0.82 percent vanadium pentoxide.
- TNG owns 100 percent of the Mount Peake vanadium-titanium-iron project. Currently, the company is working to bring the project to production and has received major project status from the Australian federal government and the Northern Territory government.
Given the metal’s bright outlook and many promising new ventures in the works, vanadium in Australia is looking better than ever for investors interested in the battery metals space.
This is an updated version of an article first published by the Investing News Network in 2021.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Matthew Flood, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.