Vanadium is a largely obscure metal often used in making steel. It retains its hardness at high temperatures, so it’s ideal for making drill bits, engine turbines and other parts that generate heat.
In the oilsands, Vanadium is one of the metals that comes out of the ground with bitumen. The concentration is quite low: a barrel of bitumen would contain just 30 milliliters of vanadium, on average, experts says. But multiplied by the millions of barrels of production from the oilsands every day would be about 33,000 liters of vanadium. Vanadium has a density of 3.36 grams per cc. So a million barrels of oil would be about 100,000 kilograms (100 tons). One year of production would be about 36500 tonnes.
Canada’s oilsand produced 2.4 million barrels per day in 2016.
Global production of vanadium totaled 79,400 tonnes in 2015. Although the vanadium market has struggled in recent years, it’s expected that global demand for vanadium will more than double by 2025, according to Merchant Research & Consulting.
Oilsand Vanadium could more than double current world production.
Shell’s project aims to extract a metal called vanadium from bitumen and use the material to produce large, utility-scale electricity storage for the renewable energy sector, which has struggled with ways to store large amounts of energy in a stable, reliable way.