Technological advances in battery storage of renewable energy are prompting a boom in vanadium exploration in mineral-rich North Queensland.
- North Queensland has enough vanadium, which is used to reinforce steel, to supply the market for 120 years
- The Saint Elmo project, near Julia Creek, is the latest project to be given federal government approvals
- Resource analyst Tim Treadgold is not convinced a vanadium industry will develop
Australia has traditionally not mined vanadium, which is used to reinforce steel, due to limited market opportunities to sell the mineral but demand for battery technology could fuel a new demand.
Geology and geophysics expert Rick Valenta from the University of Queensland said technological advances had excited exploration companies and several projects were being developed for north-west Queensland.
“One big change that’s happened in the last little while is the installation of giant batteries to stabilise energy from renewable energy sources,” Professor Valenta said.
Professor Valenta said the deposits the companies were trying to develop were already known and could service demand for years.
“There’s about 120 years of vanadium, at the world’s current annual consumption, sitting in deposits in Queensland,” he said.
“It’s not so much the urgency to go out and find new deposits, the challenge is more the come up with viable projects.”
Council welcomes vanadium
The Saint Elmo vanadium project, east of Julia Creek, has been the latest to mark a milestone in its development after gaining federal government approval to mine.
McKinlay Shire chief executive John Kelly said while the company was a long way off from mining, the announcement was welcomed.
“They require an approval from the state government and they’ve lodged applications just recently,” Mr Kelly said.
“After that, I understand they need to go to some sort of prospectus that will raise finance for the project.”
Mr Kelly said the local economy stood to benefit if the company managed to gain all the necessary approvals and went ahead with the project.
“We’re excited about the project as a council and a community and we would love to see it proceed,” he said.
Analyst not convinced
Despite the confident outlook from the exploration community and local government, resource analyst Tim Treadgold said it was hard to see a vanadium industry developing in Australia.
He said vanadium projects had also been proposed in Western Australia in the past but had not made it over the line.
“We’ve been down this road before,” Mr Treadgold said.
Mr Treadgold said the main problem facing the burgeoning industry was a global oversupply of the product, with large stockpiles overseas which could be dumped on the market when prices rise.
“Lots of people can produce vanadium,” he said.
“Every time we think we’ve got a clear run, starting a vanadium mine, the market gets filled in by overseas producers.”