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US Vanadium secures feedstock, acquires Arkansas processing plant from Saint Gobain

Vanadium ore in Australia. The metal can also be sourced as a byproduct of steel production and this is where about 80% of the world’s supply comes from today. Image: Australian Vanadium.

US Vanadium has followed up a recent commitment to ramp up its flow battery electrolyte production with a deal to secure vanadium feed material and the acquisition of a processing plant near its existing facilities in Arkansas. 

The company said on 7 September that it had secured a five year supply of feed material from a supplier in India. The vanadium will be processed into vanadium oxides and downstream vanadium chemicals for a variety of off takers, including electrolyte for vanadium redox flow batteries (VRFBs). 

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Vanadium is also used in aircraft as an additive to titanium-aluminium alloys in engines, in building construction and other industries to strengthen steel and other applications in its chemical form. The company said it has vanadium from other sources too. 

On 8 September US Vanadium said it has acquired a materials processing plant from French multinational Saint Gobain, which will enable more efficient grinding and roasting of vanadium feedstock ahead of chemical processing to turn it into the company’s range of related products, like the vanadium pentoxide it uses in VRFB electrolyte production. 

US Vanadium CEO Mark A Smith said the acquisition of the plant is a vertical integration step which will allow the company to ramp up high-purity vanadium production “more efficiently and at a lower cost”. The facility is in Benton, Arkansas, about 30 miles from the company’s main processing plant in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  

“This strategic acquisition gives US Vanadium greater flexibility and processing capacity for the various sources of vanadium feedstock that we utilise,” Smith said.

VRFBs enable energy to be stored for several hours, using liquid electrolyte tanks which can be scaled up in size to accommodate higher capacities of energy. This means that unlike lithium-ion batteries, the devices could be suitable for meeting the increasing need for long-duration energy storage as renewable energy penetration of electricity systems around the world grows. 

The electrolyte in the batteries also does not degrade even over many years or thousands of duty cycles and the amount of maintenance required is also considered to be less than for other kinds of battery. They also do not face the risk of thermal runaway which can happen in defective or misused lithium battery cells. 

Electrolyte supply is key to scaling up vanadium flow battery industry

The governments of China and the US have both identified the great potential of flow batteries as an enabler of high shares of renewables on the grid: China is supporting the building of several giant flow battery projects, while the US has put vanadium on a list of critical minerals and Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm acknowledged earlier this year that flow batteries are “good for grid storage”

However, two of the chief stumbling blocks to the adoption of VRFBs have been that electricity markets are not yet structured to recognise their long-duration benefits and the upfront cost of a VRFB system is still higher than that of lithium — although their lifetime cost of ownership may be lower. 

In an interview for the latest edition of our quarterly journal PV Tech Power,  University of New South Wales emeritus professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos, one of the original inventors of the flow battery, explained that while refinements in the technology can be made to reduce cost and increase efficiency, vanadium electrolyte makes up nearly half of the total cost of a VRFB system

Lowering that cost could be key to the success of the VRFB, Prof Skyllas-Kazacos said, and strategies including having access to vanadium feedstock, increasing the overall supply of vanadium and making electrolytes local to where demand is, and even renting out the electrolyte — which can be recycled once a VRFB’s project life is over — to customers, could help. 

Earlier this month, reported that US Vanadium is expanding its vanadium electrolyte capacity to 2.25 million litres a year on the back of a deal to supply 580,000 litres of electrolyte for an 8MWh VRFB system that Austrian manufacturer CellCube is delivering for a US customer. US Vanadium and CellCube are partnering on the production ramp up, which the vanadium company said would require around US$2.1 million investment. 

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