How a global hunt for vanadium may increase titanium supply

By Cameron Perks
Published: Thursday, 31 May 2018

Several mineral exploration companies are searching for vanadium amidst high demand and high prices for the material, so what will a future increase in vanadium production do for the titanium market?

What do mineral exploration companies Chalice Gold Mines, King River Copper, Technology Metals Australia, Vanadium Corp, Australian Vanadium, Six Sigma Metals, Tando Resources, TNG Ltd as well as lithium-miner Neometals all have in common? All of these companies are searching for vanadium, a now sought-after mineral used in vanadium redox batteries (VRBs).

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), vanadium is traditionally used in steel alloy production and is predominantly mined in China, but also in South Africa, Russia and Brazil. As a consequence of the US’ import dependence, the USGS named vanadium on its final list of critical minerals, announced on May 18.

The VRB sector is expanding thanks to its wide range of energy applications. Their large storage capacity and high cycle performance and durability make these batteries particularly suitable for grid and large scale industrial and residential uses.

Another mineral that all of these companies have in common is titanium. This is because geologically speaking, vanadium and titanium commonly occur together in anorthositic, mafic to ultramafic rocks and are often referred to as vanadiferous titanomagnetite (VTM) deposits.

Recent market announcements, explored below, revealed that investors, explorers and miners are actively seeking to become the next vanadium producers, and therefore, also the next titanium producers.

These companies are flying under the radar in terms of titanium, due to their battery-industry focus. Of these companies, the most advanced projects are held by Australia Securities Exchange (ASX)-listed companies Neometals Ltd and TNG Ltd.

On May 8, Neometals, an established lithium producer, reported that its Western Australia-located titanium-vanadium Barrambie direct shipping ore (DSO) project was the subject of bulk-sampling and test work.

The company’s titanium feedstock has been confirmed to be suitable for high-purity (>99%) titanium dioxide production, and can be precipitated selectively from a leach solution at recoveries greater than 90%. Barrambie's Eastern Band made a total mineral resource for Barrambie is estimated to be 280.1 million tonnes at 9.18% titanium dioxide and 0.44% vanadium pentoxide.

Elsewhere, TNG’s Australian Northern Territory Mount Peake Vanadium-Titanium Iron Project was awarded federal environmental approval on May 15 of this year. The project, which contains 160 million tonnes of 5.31% titanium dioxide and 0.28% vanadium pentoxide as part of its resource (as of 2013), will now need a mine management plan in order to proceed to a stage where offtake, funding and construction may proceed.

A long list of early to mid-stage explorers also exist, and while they are a long way from production, present another potential source of titanium in the long term.

ASX-listed explorer Tando Resources commenced exploration on May 21 on its South African high-grade vanadium project, after acquiring it from Vanadium Resources Ltd on March 22.

The company’s preliminary estimates on a concentrate indicate grades of 2% vanadium pentoxide and 13% titanium dioxide.

Likewise, ASX-listed explorer Chalice Gold Mines announced on May 23 that it had applied for a number of vanadium focused exploration licenses in Queensland and Western Australia. The company notes that the areas are "highly prospective" for nickel, copper platinum group elements and titanium.

Another Australia-based ASX-listed explorer, Six Sigma Metals, has recently agreed to acquire "highly prospective" vanadium-titanium and lithium assets located in Zimbabwe from Mirrorplex Ltd. The announcement, made on May 17, said that the acquisition was part of a strategy to "capitalize on the rising interest in the sector due to recent global [battery] technology advances". This company has likened its geology to that of ASX-listed Australian Vanadium’s Western Australian Gabanintha deposit, as well as ASX-listed King River Copper’s Western Australian Speerwah deposit.

Of these, King River Copper has conducted advanced metallurgical test work which has resulted in high purity titanium dioxide and vanadium pentoxide products. Australian Vanadium has also carried out test work on their project, resulting in the production of a combined concentrate yielding around 15% titanium dioxide.

In late February, ASX-listed Technology Metals Australia reported that it had recovered up to 97.8% vanadium in magnetic concentrates during metallurgical test work. While initial results focused on vanadium, early success may pave the way to future titanium production at this deposit, which contains 9.7% titanium dioxide.

Despite these companies focused on vanadium production, the potential volume of titanium dioxide that could be supplied into pigment markets is substantial.

Industrial Minerals reported prices for titanium dioxide pigment, high quality, bulk volume, cfr Asia, on May 24 at $2,800-3,100 per tonne, unchanged from the previous week. The price had been assessed at $2,720-3,100 per tonne a year earlier.

Titanium dioxide prices have been rising since early 2017 due to increased demand driven by the global economic recovery and the reduction in output due to environmental inspections in China, Industrial Minerals reported earlier in May.

While this may be the case, it remains to be seen as to whether vanadium-driven titanium dioxide production can provide any pricing relief.

More like this