Vanadium (V) is a soft, ductile, silver-grey metal that is used primarily with iron to make metal alloys for high-strength steel production. High-strength steel has a wide range of applications, including for gas and oil pipelines, tool steel, jet engines, the manufacture of axles and crankshafts for motor vehicles, as well as for reinforcing bars in building and construction.
Vanadium is also used in the production of ceramics and electronics, textile dyes, fertilisers, synthetic rubber, in welding, as well as in alloys used in nuclear engineering and superconductors. Vanadium chemicals and catalysts are used in the manufacture of sulphuric acid, the desulphurisation of sour gas and oil and in the development of fuel cells and low-charge-time, light-weight batteries.
Vanadium is not found in its metallic form in nature but occurs in more than 60 minerals as a trace element in a number of different rock types. It occurs most commonly in titaniferous magnetite deposits and in uraniferous sandstone and siltstone, as well as bauxites and phosphorites. It also occurs in fossil fuel deposits such as crude oil, coal and tar sands. It is produced as both a primary product and co-product from mining and most commonly as co-products or by-products of steel making. It is also recovered from wastes such as fly ash, oil residues and waste solutions from the processing of uranium ores.
Nearly all of the world’s vanadium is derived from mined ore as either direct mineral concentrates, usually vanadium- and titanium-rich magnetite, or as a by-product of steel-making slags. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that almost 70% of annual supply is recovered from slags and about 30% directly mined, with the remainder being acquired from other sources. Japan and the United States are thought to be the only countries to recover significant quantities of vanadium from petroleum residues.
Vanadium is sold as vanadium pentoxide (V2O5) and less commonly as vanadium trioxide (V2O3) for non-steel applications and as the alloy ferrovanadium (FeV) for steel making. The most common FeV alloy is FeV80, but FeV40, FeV50 and FeV60 are also sold. The numeric part of the symbol refers to the amount of contained vanadium; for example, FeV80 has approximately 80% contained vanadium.
Trade in vanadium products tends to be opaque with no central market recording prices. Various trade sheets such as the Metal Pages, Ryan’s Notes and the London Metal Bulletin record propriety information for subscribers. The USGS1, using Ryan’s Notes, recorded that in 2012 there was a slight recovery of FeV price for the United States domestic market with a price ranging from $14.038 to $15.728 per pound (lb), up from $14.606 to $15.004/lb of vanadium content in 2011. In contrast to the United States domestic FeV price, the European FeV annual average price has shown some decline with the price ranging from $28.533 to $29.273 per kilogram (kg) in 2011 to $24.786 to $25.475/kg in 2012. As for the annual average price of V2O5, there was a slight decline in trend in the US domestic price, reaching a price of $6.762/lb in 2012, compared with a peak price of $6.960/lb in 2011.Prices for vanadium have fluctuated during the past decade, with sharp rises and equally sharp declines over short periods. For example, following the global financial crisis, FeV prices reached lows of US$16.30 and US$17.50/kg in May 2009 in North America and Europe, respectively, after reaching heights of about US$101.40 and US$93.00/kg, respectively, the previous year.
Australia’s Economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR) of vanadium increased by 11% in 2012 to 1684 kilotonnes (kt) from 1519 kt in 2011.Historically, Australia’s EDR of vanadium have fluctuated because of the economic impacts of volatile prices and the nature of the vanadium market, which is supplied largely from secondary sources, particularly the reprocessing of slags from iron smelting. These secondary sources are able to rapidly increase or decrease output in response to price trends.
All of Australia’s EDR of vanadium are accessible..
In 2012, Proved and Probable Reserves compliant with the Joint Ore Reserve Committee (JORC) Code comprised 1305 kt of vanadium compared with 1230 kt in 2011. This accounts for approximately 77% of accessible EDR. The remaining 23% of EDR comprises Measured and Indicated Resources.
The USGS estimates that world economic resources of vanadium are about 14 million tonnes (Mt) but total world resources exceed 63 Mt. China and Russia each hold about 8% of the world’s vanadium economic resources, followed by South Africa with 6%. Australia’s EDR of 1.684 Mt represents approximately 2.7% of the world’s vanadium economic resources. However, because vanadium can be recovered as a by-product or a co-product of steel slags, the estimated world resources are not fully indicative of available supply. At current usage, there are sufficient resources to meet the world’s vanadium needs into the next century.The USGS estimates that world production of vanadium from all sources in 2012 totalled 63 Mt compared to 62.4 Mt in 2011, with China producing 23 Mt, South Africa 22 Mt and Russia 16 Mt.
Data on exploration expenditure for vanadium are not available in published statistics. However, during the last quarter of 2012, TNG Limited completed two drilling programs aimed at upgrading the project’s resource categories to Indicated and Measured Resources and providing information for metallurgical test works at the Mount Peake Project (iron-vanadium-titanium) in the Northern Territory (NT). The Reverse Circulation (RC) drilling comprised 59 holes for 7189 metres and 14 diamond drill holes for 1712 metres. Geochemical and geophysical surveys were undertaken in WA at Gabanintha in 2011 and 2012. During the same period, exploration of the southern tenements at the Windimurra in WA confirmed the potential for replenishing the mine reserves.
In 2012, Atlantic Ltd’s Windimurra Vanadium project in WA produced 87 tonnes of Ferrovanadium (FeV), containing 70 tonnes of vanadium. The company’s Windimurra mine produces vanadium and high-titanium hematite fines (iron ore). Its first shipment of seven tonnes of ferrovanadium occurred in May 2012 and during the September quarter it transported another 36 tonnes to the company’s Perth warehouse.
Most of the world’s reported mine production of vanadium during 2012 was in China (37%), South Africa (35%) and Russia (25%).
Windimurra (WA): The Windimurra mine, operated by Atlantic Ltd, is the only producing vanadium mine in Australia. It started producing in January 2012 and by the end of September the company had transported some 45 tonnes of ferrovanadium to its Perth warehouse. Improvements in the mine processing plant are expected to enable production to increase significantly with the company planning to produce 6300 tonnes per annum of vanadium once the mine and plant are fully operational. The projected mine life for Windimurra is approximately 28 years.
In July 2012, Atlantic Ltd published a Proven and Probable Reserve of 159.9 Mt at 0.47% V2O5 for the Windimurra vanadium project. The project’s Measured, Indicated and Inferred Resource of 242.6 Mt at 0.48% V2O5, representing 652 600 tonnes of contained vanadium, was published in April 2012.
The mine also has the potential to produce hematite fines as a by-product of FeV processing. Significant stockpiles of hematite fines remain at the mine site, left over from the previous Xstrata operation that ran for three years until the mine closed in 2004. Windimurra’s iron-ore fines also possess a high titanium grade, leading the company to successfully test for the optimal processing flow for separating the iron and titanium dioxide from the ore. This work was done in conjunction with the Changsha Research Institute of Mining and Metallurgy in China at both laboratory and process scale and confirmed that separation of the iron-ore fines is a viable business opportunity for the Windimurra operation.
Speewah (WA): During 2011, King River Copper (formerly Speewah Metals Ltd) drilled 266 holes for more than 18 000 metres at the Speewah titanium-vanadium-iron deposit. The company completed hydrometallurgical test work in February that confirmed a mixed chloride-leaching process could be used to extract the titanium, vanadium and hematite. In March 2012, the company released a new JORC Code compliant resource estimate for the deposit of 4712 Mt at 0.3% V2O5, 2.0% titanium (Ti) and 14.7% iron (Fe), an increase of 32% on the previous resource estimate. In April 2012, the company completed a scoping study and, in May 2012, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the traditional owners of the land. In September 2012, the company suspended activities at Speewah, citing limited funding and an unfavourable outlook for financing.
Balla Balla (WA): Forge Resources Ltd has commissioned the optimisation of the definitive feasibility study for the Balla Balla project which includes a review of the project’s capital and operational cost as well as a proposed new export path for the project. The company stated that the 14 recommendations from the initial review have been approved for inclusion in the revised definitive feasibility study to be completed sometime in 2013. As reported for the company’s December 2012 quarter, total resources for the project stand at 456 Mt at 45% Fe, 0.64% V2O5 and 13.7% TiO2.
Barrambie (WA): An evaluation by Reed Resources Ltd of hydrothermal technology for producing high-purity titanium has shown good laboratory-scale test work results, indicating it may be possible to precipitate high-purity titanium through a leaching process. The company aims to use the technology for Barrambie’s Eastern Band iron-titanium-vanadium. The current estimated resource at Barrambie is 47.2 Mt at 0.63% V2O5, 46.70% Fe and 22.18% TiO2 consisting of an Indicated Resource of 34.7 Mt and an Inferred Resource of 12.5 Mt.
Gabanintha (WA): Yellow Rock Resources Ltd’s 2012 annual report has stated a resource estimate for the Gabanintha titanium-vanadium-magnetite project of 125.8 Mt at 0.7% V2O5, 8.6% TiO2 and 32% Fe. The resources consist of 57 Mt at 0.59 % V2O5, 7.59% TiO2 and 28.1% Fe Indicated Resource and an Inferred Resource of 68.8 Mt at 0.79 % V2O5, 9.5% TiO2 and 35.7% Fe. The Gabanintha vanadium-magnetite-titanium project is approximately 43 kilometres south of Meekatharra, WA.
Canegrass (WA): Flinders Mines Ltd’s 2012 annual report has re-stated the previously reported Inferred Resource for the Canegrass magnetite project of 107 Mt at 0.6% V2O5, 5.8% TiO2 and 29% Fe.
Unaly Hill (WA): The 2012 annual report of Black Ridge Mining NL has re-announced the reported Inferred Resource for the Unaly Hill vanadium-titanium-magnetite project of 86.2 Mt at 0.4% V2O5, 4.5% TiO2 and 24% Fe. The Unaly Hill project is located approximately 48 kilometres south of Sandstone in WA.
Victory Bore (WA): The previously reported Inferred Resource of 151 Mt at 0.4% V2O5, 6.7% TiO2 and 25% Fe for Victory Bore has remained unchanged as at 30 June 2013 in the Quest Minerals Ltd quarterly report. Results from a subsequent metallurgical scoping study released in January 2012 indicated that the ore is amenable to standard processing with a high recovery of vanadium. However, results from the July 2012 mining scoping study show that capital costs are the major factor in determining the project’s economics.
Mount Peake (NT): The pre-feasibility study results for TNG Limited’s Mount Peake iron-vanadium-titanium project was completed in 2012, demonstrating a strong economic outlook for the project over 20 years of operation. In March 2013, the company released an updated JORC Code Resources statement of 160 Mt at 0.28% V2O5, 5.3 % TiO2 and 23% Fe for the Mount Peake project.Hawkwood (Qld): Eastern Iron Ltd’s 2012 annual report has stated Hawkwood Iron Project’s estimated Inferred Resource of 103.7 Mt at 13.8% Fe, 1.83% TiO2 and 0.05% V. The company also stated that future work and funding for the Hawkwood project will be subject to securing a joint venture partner.