It has been a roller-coaster ride for the vanadium market over 2018 and 2019. Vanadium pentoxide (V2O5) prices spiked to US$33.9/lb in November 2018, yet high expectations from new rebar standards and vanadium redox batteries (VRBs) failed to materialise and prices fell back to US$6/lb in January 2020, erasing two years of gains.
The implementation of the new rebar standard, which implies a higher micro-alloying content, in China has been erratic with no systematic enforcement. In addition, forecast demand was impacted by a higher than expected substitution away from ferrovanadium to ferroniobium, triggered by a widening price differential. Although ferrovanadium and ferroniobium are back to price parity and certain benefits pertain to the use of vanadium, Roskill believes that a full reversal is unlikely. Once mills are accustomed to niobium and have made the technical changes, they are unlikely to fully switch back, and Roskill estimates a portion of the micro-alloying demand from rebar has been captured by ferroniobium.
Despite the substitution, vanadium demand growth in 2019 remained strong, driven primarily by a large increase in China’s steel production. Demand growth was matched by a rising supply from both slag and coalstone producers, keeping the market sufficiently supplied. The market looks to have returned into balance in 2020, although the coronavirus (Covid-19) is expected to impact the supply chain and broader global economy.
The medium-term outlook for vanadium will be shaped by several factors affecting both demand and supply. After two decades of a rising steel production, a maturing Chinese economy will translate into a flattening steel production which will gradually slow demand for vanadium. Roskill’s view is that China’s crude steel production is approaching its peak in the mid-2020s. The development of VRB technology appears to be a longer-term possibility to offer a new major source of demand, although Roskill expects this to be limited in scale over the 2020s.
Feedstock supply from China is forecast to show a limited increase as slag producers are getting closer to full capacity while coalstone production remains dependant on technical, environmental and economic factors. Yet, vanadium supply may face a structural change following the new IMO regulations in place since January 2020, which cut sulphur content in bunker fuels. The regulation will translate into an increasing amount of spent catalysts produced by refineries, which will have to be either recycled or disposed. Given a less sustainable outlook for the latter, the share of vanadium produced from this secondary source is set to increase significantly in coming years and production costs are likely to decrease with more oil residues becoming available. The ramp of secondary vanadium supply will be the main source of competition for other new vanadium projects looking to bring product to market.
The developments in supply and demand outlined above have and will continue to reshape the vanadium market over the next decade. Excluding any significant demand increase from VRBs, Roskill forecasts that the current trajectory in the market will see a significant ramp up in surplus supply by the middle of the 2020s.
Roskill’s Vanadium: Outlook to 2029, 18th Edition report analyses the causes, consequences and magnitude of the incoming changes in terms of supply, demand and future pricing structure. Roskill’s 10-year outlook also assesses whether existing producers can increase output, the viability of new projects under development entering production, and the likelihood of projects on care and maintenance to restart. With thorough coverage of historical trends and detailed ten-year forecasts, Roskill’s report is the most comprehensive vanadium report on the market. It provides a full analysis of supply, demand, trade, and prices, complete with trends and risks geared specifically to the needs of industry participants, traders and investors.