The Queensland government has identified vanadium as a critical metal that will boost the Australian state’s new-economy future.
Queensland has made a significant push to build its position as a significant global source of critical minerals and rare earths, with the potential to become a leading producer and exporter.
It has recently allocated A$75M from a A$150M commitment announced in the 2022-2023 State Budget Update in December 2022 for the development of common user infrastructure to support the development, extraction, and production of critical minerals.
At the head of their plans is vanadium, which will be a key focus for a new Queensland Resources Common User Facility to be located at the Cleveland Bay Industrial Park in northern coastal city of Townsville.
The facility is intended to trial production processes for commercialization, enabling prospective miners to begin producing mineral samples at scale.
Initially targeting vanadium production, the facility will be designed and equipped with equipment capable of adaption to trial processes for a range of critical minerals and rare earths.
The aim is to accelerate the development of commercial vanadium projects, promote investment in advanced mineral manufacturing opportunities, and enable development of supply chain and supporting industries in Queensland.
Queensland is estimated to hold about 30% of the world’s vanadium reserves and the state government says vanadium is a critical component of its plans as it has many uses, including to create a reliable and safe renewable energy storage solution which can be used in large-scale batteries around the world.
Several smaller mining companies in Queensland are also seeking to develop critical minerals projects like the vanadium projects in the Julia Creek and Richmond regions.
Under the state government’s initiative, mining companies and industrial researchers will be able to apply for a licence to use the facility to:
- Pilot mineral production processes to validate commercial and technical viability
- Carry out metallurgical and process chemistry research of intermediate and end products to optimize unit operations
- Train staff on equipment, production processes, and hazardous material handling
- Produce samples for customer testing, assess potential by-products, waste streams, and recyclable materials
- Demonstrate processes at scale to validate commerciality and technical viability to secure finance, investor interest, off-take agreements, and partnership arrangements
The project is currently in the development phase, focused on concept design, preparing cost and schedule estimates, procurement, and community engagement. The state has been working in collaboration with potential future users of the facility to identify the base equipment required, develop a base design, and establish an access regime and facility operating arrangements.
The government says QRCUF is a key action under the Queensland Resources Industry Development Plan and supports the delivery of the A$62B Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan and the transformation of Queensland’s energy system to deliver clean, reliable, and affordable energy to provide power for generations.
A discussion paper produced by consultancy Accenture on the state’s opportunities in the battery value chain identified a number of competitive advantages, finding that vanadium redox flow batteries might be the technology it is best placed to support with end-to-end manufacturing capabilities, although there would likely also be other opportunities including lithium battery assembly and R&D.
“Global demand for vanadium in batteries and high-quality steel is expected to outpace supply before the end of the decade. Queensland has world-class, highly economic deposits of vanadium located in accessible marine shale,” Queensland’s minister for resources, Scott Stewart, said.
“Because they hold their charge in a liquid form, vanadium redox batteries can be built to a much bigger scale, powering larger communities for longer. Vanadium has the potential to be the eureka moment for North Queensland,” Mr Stewart added.
On the other side of Australia, Surefire Resources NL (ASX: SNR) has recently made vanadium headlines with the release of the initial results update from the ongoing Victory Bore resource estimation.
The resource estimation has increased the confidence level of the resource categories being upgraded to result in 87.1Mt @ 0.40% V2O5 to the Measured and Indicated resource category in preparation for an economic pre-feasibility assessment.
The resource estimate is a 56% tonnage increase to the previous 2012 estimate of 151Mt @ 0.44% V2O5 for Victory Borei and is additional to the contiguous to the south, Unaly Hill Project resource of 86Mt @ 0.42% V2O5ii.
“Surefire is well positioned to have the Victory Bore Vanadium Project enter the market at a critical time in the vanadium industry. Excellent metallurgical properties and economic benefits from bulk mining and preconcentration beneficiation will put the project at the low end of the cost curve,” managing director, Vladimir Nikolaenko, said.
“The drilling results from Victory Bore continue to display huge true widths and exceptional continuity, both along strike and down dip. This represents an ideal bulk mining proposition. Based on these drilling results, Victory Bore is shaping up to be a world class vanadium deposit and certainly one of the largest in Australia.
“With this drilling it is becoming apparent that the Victory Bore vanadium deposit is not only fast becoming one of Australia’s largest vanadium deposits, but the thickness and continuity of the mineralization means it can sustain a large, long-life bulk mining operation at low stripping ratio, mining dilution and mining operation costs.
“Vanadium prices are predicted to increase in line with an increase in storage requirements with the uptake of electric vehicles to support the global push for decarbonization.”
Vanadium has been declared a critical element in Australia, the USA, and major European countries. This is driven by several factors:
- China controls over 60% of the global supply of vanadium, with Russia controlling a further 25%
- The USA and Europe rely completely on vanadium imports
- While the traditional use for vanadium continues to increase, mainly in the steel and chemical industries, its use in mass electricity storage batteries is increasing rapidly
The preferred mass electricity storage technology is the vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB).
The advantages VRFB technology are that they are:
- Green: both the batteries casing and solutions within will not harm the environment and are readily recycled
- Have unlimited energy capacity: batteries can be left completely discharged for long periods and have a very large charge-discharge cycle capacity
- Easily scalable: They can be built small enough to power a home or big enough to power a large town. This year China commissioned a 200MW/800MWh battery in the city of Dalian, it is the world’s largest vanadium flow battery and can power an estimated 200,000 homes
- Safe: these water-based batteries will not catch fire and are not filled with dangerous chemicals
- Long life: will last for many decades
The vanadium market
According to MarketWatch, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, the global market for vanadium is estimated at US$38970M in the year 2023 and is projected to reach a revised size of US$51420M by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 4.7% during the forecast period 2023-2028.