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Vanadium has been the best performing commodity of the last two years. In fact, it is up over 236% since the beginning of 2017. The main driver for this has been new rebar standards set in place in China following the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, which claimed 68,000 lives. Nearly all the deaths were attributed to inadequate rebar standards. As such, China mandated a minimum amount of vanadium to be included in all future rebar construction, as vanadium acts an inexpensive and effective strengthener in producing high tensile strength steel rebar.
Chinese steelmakers must add 36 grams of vanadium to 1,000 tons of rebar steel. That still falls short of 73 g/t in Europe and 95 g/t in the United States, according to Metal Bulletin.
Vanadium is a small market with annual production of 75,000-80,000 tons. Adding 0.5% vanadium to steel doubles its strength, and that is where 85% of vanadium goes. At this point, known above ground stockpiles have dwindled and the price of vanadium has been on the rise.
Currently, China produces 60% of the world's vanadium, with South Africa (11%) and Russia (11%) coming in a distant second and third. Roughly half of Chinese production (or about 30% of global supply) used to be destined for export to Europe, Asia, and North America. The export quantity is fast disappearing as there is now little vanadium left in China for rebar blending after domestic vanadium consumption. Further exacerbating the issue, there is currently ZERO vanadium production in the United States.
For this reason, President Trump recently signed into effect Executive Order 13817, listing vanadium as 1 of 35 critical metals to the USA, streamlining permitting and licensing of any future vanadium mines.
Vanadium is also becoming an integral part of the electrification movement. Vanadium redox batteries are well suited for large scale, grid storage applications for solar and wind farms. They are being installed at breakneck speed in China and are likely to overtake Elon Musk's lithium ion battery for large scale applications. Ask any commodity investor on what metals have been the most lucrative to invest in over the past three years and they will almost all point to the battery metals - lithium and cobalt. Vanadium is quickly gaining traction as the third participant in the boom. As an example, legendary mining investor Robert Friedland, is investing heavily in vanadium flow batteries through his Beijing based investment firm Pu Neng.
It is hard to say how high vanadium prices need to go to stimulate supply and deter demand. But it calls to memory uranium over the 2003-2007 time period, when the commodity rose from around $5 a pound to over $150. I have included a research piece put together by Core Consultants as an attachment that touches on the vanadium market in more detail.
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