High purity vanadium is being tipped for greatness as a revolutionary force in battery storage of renewable energy. Perth’s King River Copper may well have the largest and highest purity in-ground resource in the world in W.A. Last week the company proved it could produce the holy grail of purity levels at 99.5%, placing it amongst elite company around the world.
The owner of what is probably the world’s largest in-ground vanadium deposit, King River Copper, has an unlikely ally in former US President Barack Obama.
Obama was a huge fan of vanadium redox flow batteries, or “VRB”, as part of his vision for America to generate 80% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2035. So it was no surprise that the ex-Commander in Chief described “multi-megawatt vanadium redox fuel cells” as: “one of the coolest things I’ve ever said out loud”.
It is not clear however whether or not Obama was aware that VRB technology was actually invented in Australia at the University of New South Wales by Professor Maria Skyllas Kazacos.
The pitched fever that has, and continues to surround lithium has caused the one percenters who are always looking to get ahead of the investment curve to look to the horizon where vanadium generated clean energy is looming large.
Both Australian technology and Australian in-ground vanadium resources such as King River’s enormous deposit in W.A could play a leading role in fulfilling vanadium’s massive potential as an emerging global energy gamechanger for large-scale, renewable battery storage.
It is rare for the Americans and Russians to agree on anything, however, Obama’s penchant for vanadium, is also echoed by the Russian business elite.
For example, back in 2015, Russian billionaire and Pala Investments founder, Vladimir Lorich, predicted that demand for vanadium would grow ten-fold within ten years.
Currently about 90% of global demand for vanadium, representing about 100,000 tonnes of contained vanadium, is driven by high strength steel use. However, many people believe that the steel industry will simply underwrite demand for the exotic metal with the real blue sky opportunity coming from vanadium’s unique conductivity characteristics that makes it perfect for large, industrial scale clean energy storage.
Vanadium based batteries are non-flammable and have an estimated life-cycle of between10,000 and 35,000 cycles, far outstripping current day batteries that have a mere 1000 cycle usages.
Vanadium batteries can also maintain a staggering 90% of their capacity over 20-years.
Within just a year of Lorich’s 2015 forecast vanadium prices had doubled.
Ferro vanadium that is used in steel alloys, soared 90% in 2017 to nine-year peaks last August. Vanadium pentoxide, a powder form of the metal used in batteries, hiked 130% last year, according to Bloomberg, and 27% in January to US$5.68 a kilogram, according to Metal Bulletin PLC.
Perth-based King River Copper Executive Chairman Tony Barton is amongst the one percenters who can foresee the future for vanadium.
He has been quietly polishing up his massive in-ground resource at the Speewah Dome project just south of Kununurra in W.A, readying it for the wave of investor interest he is expecting to come when the market works out vanadium’s relative advantages over other clean tech battery metals such as lithium.
Barton says he has already discovered enough vanadium and titanium at Speewah to cover the first 1000 years of production – and he isn’t joking.
Australia is not currently a producer of vanadium with 90% of global supply coming out of Russia, China and South Africa.
There are reportedly around 8,000 tonnes of vanadium supply shortfall each year already, placing constant upwards price pressure on the exotic metal.
King River is chomping at the bit to get into production at Speewah, which boasts a jaw-dropping vanadium in magnetite deposit of 4.7 billion tonnes at an average grade of 0.3% vanadium pentoxide. Of note is the orientation and exquisite purity of the deposit which is largely jumping out of the ground at surface and flat-lying, making it an easy target to mine.
In a market update last week the ASX-listed explorer announced some confidence-boosting metallurgical results for a scoping study aimed at expediting the production of high-purity vanadium pentoxide, titanium dioxide and super high-quality iron from Speewah.
Assay results produced a vanadium pentoxide product that achieved the holy grail purity percentage of 99.5% only a month after King River had first achieved 95.5% purity levels.
Leach trials conducted by TSW Analytical have also increased the purity of King River’s titanium dioxide product from 99.1% to the coveted high-purity levels of 99.5%.
In the market update, King River said, “The major objective of the concept study is to identify a base framework for a new scoping study into the production and marketability of vanadium electrolyte products used in vanadium flow batteries.”
Purity is everything when it comes to pricing vanadium and titanium and King River can expect to be the belle of the ball if it can get Speewah into production.
The highest purity titanium is in demand as a high-strength, light weight metal with outstanding corrosive resistance properties for use in orthopaedic pins, screws and cables, ligature clips, surgical staples, springs, in joint replacements, cryogenic vessels and bone fixation devices.
As an alloy, with tiny additions of palladium, titanium is also used in aircraft turbines, engine components, aircraft structural components, high performance auto parts, marine applications and sports equipment.
Vanadium has a wide range of similar benefits in metal alloys used for high-strength steel applicable to oil and gas pipelines, jet engines, axles and crankshafts and reinforcing bars for building and construction.
Henry Ford, the most famous name in the automotive industry, was a huge early fan of vanadium metal used in his Model T cars which he lauded for delivering “twice the strength for half the weight”.
According to a Bloomberg research paper, the use of vanadium for highly efficient renewable energy storage and for electric car batteries was being researched by big corporations such as BYD in China and Valance Technology in the U.S..
According to Bloomberg, vanadium has already been trialled in Subaru’s prototype G4e electric car.
Bloomberg says of vanadium redox fuel cell batteries; “A VRB is essentially an on-demand energy storage system where: the electrolyte never wears out and overall maintenance costs are extremely low; energy (electricity) can be stored in liquid form at room temperature almost indefinitely; customers do not have to buy more capacity than they immediately need and can easily add energy and power in modular fashion over time.”
“With a 35-50 year battery life, the ability to operate at room temperature with low maintenance and over 35,000 life cycles with instant recharge/discharge time, the VRB is the cheapest battery solution on a kilo/megawatt hour basis. For each megawatt of storage in a VRB, about 10 tonnes of high purity vanadium is required,”.
“The continued growth in battery applications for vanadium is expected to provide new demand channels for the metal, especially high purity vanadium which currently is not always readily available in today’s market.” Bloomberg said
The Bloomberg research paper says that whilst the size and grade of a vanadium deposit is important, “metallurgy and processing ability are more important.”
King River’s Speewah project even cracks a mention in the Bloomberg paper that says; “Speewah is by far the largest defined resource in our peer group, if not globally. The overriding key feature of the project is the vanadium tenor in concentrate, which is ranked far above the group.”
Barton’s King River appears to be in the right place at the right time and investors are now waving their chequebooks after a period of hibernation for the company.
King River’s share price has already produced a 19 bagger this year for the faithful who hung in there with the company’s stock roaring from just point four of one cent to 7.5c a share.
Oh yes, King River also pegged a vacant gold mining lease next to its Speewah project this year and hit an 11m intersection going 28 grams per tonne gold with the first round of drilling.
When it rains it pours.