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The Most Beautiful Metal

Saturday, February 25, 2017 4:18
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by Richard (Rick) Mills, Ahead of the Herd:

Vanadium is a soft, silvery gray, ductile transition metal and is the 22nd most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. Vanadium in not found by itself, instead it’s most often found in chemically combined forms occurring in about 65 different minerals and has been historically mined as a by-product of other mining operations.

Vanadium is primarily obtained from the minerals vanadinite (Pb5(VO)3Cl) and carnotite (K2(UO2)2VO4·1-3H2O). It is found in magnetite (iron oxide) deposits that are also very rich in the element titanium. It is also found in aluminum ore, rocks with high concentrations of phosphorous-containing minerals, and sandstones that have high uranium content.

Vanadium is also recovered from carbon-rich deposits such as coal, oil shale, crude oil, and tar sands. Vanadium can be recycled from mining slag, oil field sludge, fly ash and other waste products.

Vanadium’s symbol, a V, is based on an 8th-century figurine of the Scandinavian goddess of beauty Freyja. The symbol is set against text from a 13th century Icelandic saga. Norsemen called Freyja by another name, Vanadis, which is where vanadium got its name.

Vanadium may be the most beautiful metal of all – once extracted and dissolved in water, various forms of vanadium turn into bright, bold colors.

A sword of Damascus steel was said to be so sharp that it could split a hair dropped on the blade, cut a floating feather in half or split wide open a steel helmet with equal ease. The blades were said to be so flexible they could bend through 90 degrees without breaking.

Most Damascus steel was derived from blocks of ”wootz,” a form of steel produced from the vanadium-rich iron deposits in South India.

A big mystery down thru the ages is what were the properties of wootz that produced such blades – malleable when heated, extraordinarily tough when cooled and able to take on a razors edge and hold it thru the thick of battle.

The answer has come fairly recently – it takes high carbon content, vanadium and low metal working temperature  to produce the much superior Damascus steel.

The Arabs took the steel to Damascus where it was used for many centuries.

The first time vanadium was discovered was in 1801 by Andrés Manuel del Rio, a Professor of Mineralogy in Mexico City. Rio sent samples, and a brief letter describing his discovery, to the Institute de France in Paris, France, for confirmation and credit. His letter was lost in a shipwreck and the Institute only received his samples which Rio had named erythronium.

In 1830, while analyzing samples of iron from a mine in Sweden, a Swedish chemist, Nils Gabriel Sefstrôm rediscovered vanadium.

In 1867, Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe, an English chemist, isolated vanadium by combining vanadium trichloride (VCl3) with hydrogen gas (H2).

In 1869, pure vanadium was produced by Henry Roscoe at Manchester, England.

Henry Ford was the first to use it on an industrial scale, in the 1908 Model T car chassis.


Vanadium has remarkable characteristics which give it the ability to make things stronger, lighter, more efficient and more powerful. Adding small percentages of it to steel and aluminium creates exceptionally ultra high-strength, super-light and more resilient alloys.

Nearly 80% of the vanadium produced is used to make ferrovanadium or as an additive to steel.

Vanadium-steel and Ferrovanadium (a strong, shock resistant and corrosion resistant alloy of iron containing between 1% and 6% vanadium) alloys are used to make such things as axles, crankshafts and gears for cars, parts of jet engines, springs and cutting tools.

Although other metals can also have similar effects on steel only a small amount of Vanadium is required to dramatically increase its tensile strength, making Vanadium one of the most cost-effective additives in steel alloys.

Less than 1% of vanadium, and as little chromium, makes steel shock resistant and vibration resistant.

Vanadium-titanium alloys have the best strength-to-weight ratio of any engineered material on earth.

Vanadium, being corrosion resistant, is used to make special tubes and pipes for the chemical industry.

Since vanadium does not easily absorb neutrons it has important applications in the nuclear power industry.

A thin layer of vanadium is used to bond titanium to steel.

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