Vanadium Supercharges Sustainability
Solar and wind farms have the makings of energy crisis liberators. There’s only one major drawback: storage. We hear of the immense amounts of energy produced by these farms during peak hours, but then we hear how few cities they could actually power due to storage limitations. The current reality doesn’t match the potential. This is where vanadium comes into play.
At night or when the sun isn’t shining, solar power cannot be harnessed and stored energy gets lost. Similarly, energy created by wind turbines is lost when the wind ceases. Vanadium-enhanced batteries can store vast amounts of energy produced during peak hours and allocate it during non-peak hours, creating electrical storage on a scale large enough to power entire grids.
When used as a battery component, vanadium has demonstrated an ability to supercharge batteries of any size, from giant vanadium redox flow batteries (VRBs) housed in substations powering large-scale grids to vanadium-enhanced batteries in electric cars. Given their immense energy storage capacity, vanadium-enhanced batteries stand to revolutionize electric cars, making them user-friendly and creating widespread market acceptance. Vanadium batteries can store a charge translating to 372 miles of travel, a distance ranging anywhere from three to seven times greater than that provided by a single traditional lithium-ion battery charge. Not only is the charge capacity greater, but vanadium-enhanced batteries can be recharged in less than an hour, compared to five to 10 hours for lithium-ion batteries.
What is Vanadium?
Vanadium isn’t new. Discovered in the early 1800s, vanadium is a malleable, silvery grey transition metal found in a number of minerals such as vanadite and patronite. It can also be commercially obtained as a byproduct of iron manufacturing when slag and fly ash are purified. Its potential use in batteries could boost demand, but this transition metal already serves a very crucial role in industries like aerospace. Vanadium foil is used to join steel and titanium, creating advances in light-weight high-strength aircraft.
Are Vanadium Batteries Viable?
New super-charged vanadium-enhanced batteries sound too good to be true, but investment from governments around the world and several companies already moving forward with this technology proves its feasibility. BYD Company Ltd., an auto manufacturer in China, has begun developing vanadium-enhanced batteries for its future lines of electric cars. Japanese-owned Subaru uses vanadium to enhance its lithium-ion batteries, doubling the driving range offered by traditional batteries.
What’s the Catch?
The major limitation to the vanadium battery revolution is the scarcity of vanadium deposits around the world. Russia, South Africa, and China are some of the only major exporters. Not only will its use in new green technologies require increased production, but expanding economies and growth around the world will continue to demand vanadium for its traditional use in strengthening steel alloys. While the U.S. currently gets the majority of its vanadium as a by-product from expensive extraction processes or from overseas exporters, the American Vanadium Corporation and Apella Resources stand to offer low-cost vanadium mining from shallow vanadium deposits within the U.S. as well as from imports.
As demand increases, we will learn more about the environmental consequence and feasibility of vanadium mining. If the United States and other countries can establish a steady supply of vanadium and technology continues to advance, vanadium batteries could revolutionize sustainability, making reliable large-scale renewable energy sources and user-friendly green technologies a reality.