Vanadium off-take for battery manufacture at “inflection point”, says Bushveld’s Mojapelo

SUPPLY of vanadium to China had grown from 3% to 18% of total production, said Fortune Mojapelo, CEO of Bushveld Minerals who added that the structural drivers behind vanadium demand growth “could not be stronger”.

“With the disruption happening to the utility model, energy storage is here,” said Mojapelo during the company’s second quarter conference call to analysts. Vanadium is used in steelmaking, but new demand has grown through its use in vanadium batteries which have improved storage capability over traditional batteries.

“The opportunity [for vanadium in batteries] is not in the future. It is here today. I could not be more excited.”

Bushveld Minerals expected to produce between 3,660 tons to 3,950 tons of vanadium this year, a reduction from the previous forecast of 3,960 to 4,300 tons, owing to Covid-19 disruptions. However, year-on-year production would be a quarter to one-third higher owing to the addition of production from the newly purchased Vanchem facilities.

Bushveld producers pelletised vanadium – or Nitrovan – from its Vametco facilities situated near Brits in South Africa’s North West province, and grades of oxide from Vanchem, a facility near Witbank in Mpumalanga province.

About nine-tenths of world vanadium production, about 110,000 tons, is used in the production of steel as a hardening agent; the balance is supplied into niche chemical end uses such as vanadium batteries. Therefore, demand increases from even a small base is likely to disrupt the market, said Mojapelo. “Once core producers reach capacity, that will be a major inflection point,” he said.

China has until recently supplied itself but is beginning to import vanadium, hence the growth in off-take from Bushveld Minerals, which also sends product to the US. “We don’t have a specific target for China [supply] but we want to grow it as much as possible.

“It and the US will be the dominant markets,” he said.

Shares in Bushveld Minerals, which trade on the Alternative Investment Market, have halved over the last 12 months. The company is capitalised at £144m.