A new carbon free, high efficiency approach to cracking vanadium, titanium and iron from ore
Refining multiple elements from a single ore is tricky for a number of reasons, but primarily, the extraction process gets significantly longer and more complicated with each additional consideration, often to an uneconomical degree. Moreover, conventional methods most frequently involve smelting and/or roasting as part of the separation process, releasing large quantities of CO2 and other potentially harmful gases through combustion of the ore as well as the fossil fuels burned to power the whole affair; major gaps exist in many metals-refining markets for technologies capable of minimising the environmental footprint of separating out the period table.
Driving down costs is, of course, a leading concern for all businesses, but particularly for those resource companies in ownership of polymetallic deposits; any company that cracks cheap and clean extraction of multiple end products surely has a considerable edge over its competitors. VanadiumCorp Resource Inc. (TSXV: VRB) (“VanadiumCorp”) may have achieved exactly that with their integrated model for producing vanadium, titanium and iron utilising only electrochemical processes. Add this to the fact that Quebec offers cheap hydroelectricity and you get a low-cost and environmentally friendly polymetallic extraction of three valuable industrial metals.
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The company intends to draw feedstock ore from its own vanadiferous titanomagnetite (VTM) deposits, one of which, known as Lac Dore, has recently returned very positive Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) results, with a pre-tax net present value (NPV) of C$1.057bn, a pre-tax internal rate of return (IRR) of 17.46% and a payback period of just six years. The PEA states that the nominal VTM production rate will be 864,000 tons per year at a nominal price of US$100 per ton. Importantly, the conservatively reported average grade of 26.6% VTM is still outstanding, leading to estimated average lifetime operating expenses of C$56.89 per tonne of VTM, or 42% of the eventual concentrate selling price.
VanadiumCorp, together with Electrochem, developed their new chemical technology solution as a joint venture at the beginning of this year. The process allows for the production of a vanadium electrolyte directly, along with a patented process from Electrochem allowing for full iron recovery in addition to the efficient vanadium oxide and titania extraction. Considering that 85% of vanadium is derived from the limited number of magnetite resources in the world with limited recovery, high cost and a large carbon footprint, the new carbon free, high efficiency approach from VanadiumCorp-Electrochem represents a welcome move away from blast furnaces.
According to the World Steel Association in 2016, worldwide steel production currently totals about 1.6 billion tonnes per year, and the prevailing blast furnace process accounts for as much as 5 percent of the world’s total greenhouse-gas emissions. The industry has had little success in its search for carbon-free methods of manufacturing steel, which remains one of the world’s leading industrial sources of greenhouse gases, but hope is on the horizon with companies such as VanadiumCorp seeking innovative solutions to long-standing problems.
The two integrated technologies will be able to offer a highly cost effective and greener alternative to smelting and roasting in jurisdictions having access to affordable electricity either from hydro or nuclear power. VanadiumCorp’s simple vision starting in Quebec has global implications for vanadium-titanium-iron resources. A fully integrated CO2-free iron making process to replace blast furnaces in the iron and steelmaking industries is truly a technological shift worthy of gaining exposure.
Lara Smith has spent over a decade covering commodity markets. She started her career as a buyside analyst in South Africa where she covered soft ... <Read more about Lara Smith>