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The vanadium market in Australia has proven volatile over the years, but there are many potentially promising companies in the market.
Vanadium is important 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-gray 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, which can be further used in a variety of essential industrial applications, 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, and in its chemical form, vanadium is used to produce sulfuric acid, fuel cells and batteries.
Read on to learn more about this unusual metal, and which companies in Australia are focused on it.
Vanadium in Australia: The current landscape
Vanadium’s top three producers worldwide are South Africa, China and Russia, which are also the countries with the largest vanadium reserves. China is responsible for the majority of the world’s vanadium output at 60 percent, with Russia at 17 percent and South Africa at 7 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 over the course of the year its price almost tripled, coming in at US$16.89 by 2005.
Unsurprisingly, the vanadium market in Australia has 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; Neometals (ASX:NMT,OTC Pink:RRSSF), with its vanadium-centric Barrambie project in 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, located just southeast of Windimurra.
Another emerging vanadium miner is Australian Vanadium (ASX:AVL), which owns the Australian Vanadium project located in the Murchison region; it spans about 260 square kilometres in Western Australia.
Recently, Canadian firm Currie Rose Resources (TSXV:CUI) announced plans to purchase 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.
Vanadium in Australia: The future
Looking ahead, Australia’s vanadium-mining potential is set to grow as interest in vanadium rises.
Demand is anticipated to rise due to the metal’s critical role in battery storage technology, where it is used in vanadium redox flow batteries. 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.
For example, Australian Vanadium's Australian Vanadium property was awarded Federal Major Project Status by the Australian government in September 2019 to recognize its national strategic importance; in April 2020, it was awarded State Lead Agency Status by the Western Australian government.
A November 2021 resource update shows the project's 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.
Another Australian vanadium mine under development is Technology Metals' Gabanintha project, a proposed open-pit mine with 29.6 million tonnes of vanadium reserves in the Meekatharra region in Western Australia.
King River Resources is another advanced vanadium developer, and its Speewah specialty metals project has a total measured, indicated and inferred resource of 4,712 million tonnes at 0.33 percent vanadium pentoxide. This project has developed over the past 10 years into a flourishing vanadium deposit and continues to grow.
Neometals’ permitted Barrambie titanium and vanadium project is being developed as well, with hydrometallurgical developments in the works and updates to follow. Currently, the project has a resource of 64.9 million tonnes of vanadium at 0.82 percent vanadium pentoxide.
Finally, 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 an annual production capacity of around 7,600 tonnes of high-grade vanadium pentoxide flake.
Given the metal’s bright outlook and the promising new ventures in the works, vanadium in Australia is looking better than ever for investors interested in the battery metals space.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Isabel Armiento, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.