Tapping into vanadium: Largo Resources is set to revolutionise the steel industry
One of the leading mineral exporters worldwide, rich in bauxite, niobium, manganese and iron ore resources, the abundance of raw materials and high levels of vanadium (V205) has led Largo Resources to establish the Vanadio de Maracás Menchen Mine project in Bahia State, Brazil.
Gaining up to $91mn in revenue in 2018’s first quarter (a 210% increase over Q1 2017), the project will aim to cater to global demands for stronger and lighter steel, as well as high quality vanadium, required by aerospace and chemical industries.
“This was a very challenging project, but Largo Resources have made it happen. We are very happy with the results considering all the developments and improvements we have made to deliver operational excellence,” explains Paulo Misk, President of Largo Resources Brasil.
“Demand for vanadium is growing across the automotive, aerospace industries and use of batteries. It also helps the environment, where in just one kilogram of V2O5 in one tonne of steel, its strength is increased by 30%.
“We call this a green metal, where you don't need to use as much vanadium, reducing environmental impacts. If vehicles are lighter, for example, they will consume less fuel. Huge improvements have also been made in the aerospace industry, with regards to consumption.”
Largo Resources has been keen to unlock the vanadium open-pit mine’s potential. Mining the ore and sending the mineral to a crushing plant, it is here that the company works to upgrade the vanadium content through dry magnetic separation, where all crushed material is fed into the milling process.
“After milling, we move to the wet magnetic separation stage and produce our magnetic concentrate, which is 3.2% vanadium. It's much better than any other magnet concentrate in the world. It's about 60% higher when you compare our competitors,” observes Misk.
“Once we have the magnetic concentrate, it is placed in a rotary kiln, where sodium is added, producing sodium vanadate. We then remove the solids and all the vanadium in the pregnant solution goes through precipitation, where we produce the ammonia meta vanadate (AMV).
“We fuse it dry and remove the ammonia in another furnace,” he continues. “Whilst we have V2O5 already, we can then provide it as a powder, or we could melt it in a fusion furnace and produce flakes.
“The three products that we have after this process are standard-grade V2O5 flake, a high-purity V2O5 flake and a high-purity V2O5 powder.”
To meet increased demand, Largo Resources has also sought to ramp up production across its operations. Producing 903 tonnes in December last year, with a production record of 2,539 tonnes, the company has one of the lowest costs in the world.
“Our ability to produce vanadium at low cost gives us a lot of competitiveness. Our recovery from ore to product is 79%, which is one of the highest in the world,” says Misk.
“These are the main targets we have been working on: higher production, lower unit cost and very high recovery. To achieve high levels of production, we are increasing our capacity by 25%. We have a very high cost control and improved maintenance performance. That’s the way we unsure excellence results and also take full advantage of the recent high vanadium prices.”
Providing a boost to employment figures and the country’s economy, Largo Resources seeks to encourage and support workers across its operations. With everyday training and a range of different programmes, 77 employees are presently undertaking scholarships which the company is financially supporting.
“Everything is being achieved by a very good team. The main goal is to keep improving our team and developing their skills, getting them more involved each time, more committed and engaged,” Misk passionately adds.
“Each employee must have the right skills in order to be aligned with the purpose of the company – it is essential.”
“We have charted the highest requirements regarding quality, but our team makes our project and operation unique. They are very engaged, committed to the company, and make it happen. We work together and the collaboration among us is very clear.”
Such commitment extends towards Largos’ strong relationships with its suppliers, which play a key part in its drive to lower ongoing costs.
“We believe that if we have the right partners who look for excellence, we are going to be much more likely to succeed by working together to achieve a good result and a good performance,” Misk says.
The company’s production of vanadium has been certified by all major producers of master alloys for the aerospace industry outside of China, as well as producers of vanadium master alloys who supply the western titanium industry. Additionally, Largo Resources has also been approved to supply vanadium to redox flow battery developers and electrolyte producers in North America, Europe and China.
But where does Misk believe the company and the Vanadio de Maracás Menchen Mine project to be headed long-term?
“Our project, it's unique considering the quality of our ore, the reaches, the grade, the technology that we have, and the product that we produce. We have the best quality in the world,” he says.
“We also are doing an exploration programme in order to increase our reserves, and we are developing our product in order to be able to supply all the vanadium needs regarding quality and regarding volume, now and in the future.”
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