Vanadium is a chemical element with the atomic number 23 in the periodic table. It’s the 21st most plentiful metal found in the upper part of Earth’s crust in a concentration of 100 mg V kg−1. Being a member of a broader transition metals group of elements, vanadium has five valence electrons and adopts +3, +4, and +5 oxidation states.
Mainly used in metal alloys for an added strength, wear resistance, and durability, vanadium is also present in the human body. As a trace mineral, element 23 is a part of some vitally important metabolic processes and enzymes that serve both heart and bone health.
Chemical and Physical Properties of Vanadium
The symbol in the periodic table of elements: V
Atomic number: 23
Atomic weight (mass): 50.9414 g.mol-1
Group number: 5 (Transition metals)
Period: 4 (d-block)
Color: A silvery gray-white metal
Physical state: Solid at 20°C
Half-life: From less than 55 nanoseconds to 1.5×1017 years
Electronegativity according to Pauling: 1.6
Density: 6.0 g.cm-3
Melting point: 1910°C, 3470°F, 2183 K
Boiling point: 3407°C, 6165°F, 3680 K
Van der Waals radius: 0.134 nm
Ionic radius: 0.074 nm (+3) ; 0.059 (+5)
Most characteristic isotope: 51V
Electronic shell: [Ar]3d34s2
The energy of the first ionization: 649.1 kJ.mol-1
The energy of the second ionization: 1414 kJ.mol-1
The energy of the third ionization: 2830 kJ.mol-1
The energy of the fourth ionization: 4652 kJ.mol-1
Discovery date: In 1801 by Andrés Manuel del Rio / Niels Sefstrom
With the periodic table symbol V, atomic number 23, atomic mass of 50.9414 g.mol-1, and electron configuration [Ar]3d34s2, vanadium is a solid, hard, silvery gray-white metal with good ductile and malleable properties. It reaches its boiling point at 3407°C, 6165°F, 3680 K, while the melting point is achieved at 1910°C, 3470°F, 2183 K. This relatively rare transition metal in the periodic table has an electronegativity of 1.6 according to Pauling, whereas the atomic radius according to van der Waals is 0.134 nm.
Vanadium metal has a strong anti-corrosive effect. Namely, this substance does not dissolve in H2O nor it reacts when exposed to oxygen at room temperature. It’s also non-reactive with acids at room temperature, such as with hydrochloric or cold sulfuric acid. On the other hand, there is a strong reaction if the acids are heated.
How Was Vanadium Discovered?
In 1801, the Spanish chemist Andres Manuel Del Rio y Fernández (1764 – 1849) performed a chemical analysis on a specimen of vanadite, Pb5(VO4)3Cl, which was called ‘brown lead’ at the time. While investigating the salts of the new substance, he first observed a wide range of colors. For this reason, Del Rio named his newly discovered element ‘panechromo’, meaning ‘multicolored’.
The Discovery of Andres Manuel Del Rio y Fernández
After a more detailed analysis of the oxide salts of the substance, especially of the sodium vanadium oxide, the professor noticed an intensely red hue of the salt when exposed to heat or acids. This made him change his mind on the name, so he renamed the element ‘eritrono or erythronium’, borrowing the name from the Greek word ‘eruthros’ for ‘red’.
Believing that he had discovered a new chemical element, this Professor of Mineralogy at the Royal School of Mines, Mexico City, sent his scientific findings to the Institut De France via boat in order to have his discovery confirmed. Unfortunately, the ship never made it to its ultimate destination.
The Vanadium Discoverer’s Misfortune
However, by the turn of events, some of Del Rio’s notes were eventually recovered from the shipwreck, only for his scientific evidence to be denied. Namely, the Spanish chemist had actually analyzed impure chromium. This finding was confirmed in 1805 by the French chemist Hippolyte-Victor Collet-Descotils.
The Rediscovery of Vanadium
It appeared as if the scientists were not much interested in this new chemical after the aforementioned event, until 1830. That year, the Swedish chemist Nils Gabriel Sefström succeeded in what Andres Manuel Del Rio failed – to discover element 23, i.e. vanadium (V).
By analyzing a sample of Swedish iron ore, Sefström detected a new metal that formed numerous multi-colored compounds. He managed to isolate the new element from a sample of cast iron that was made from an ore mined at Småland, Sweden.
The Ultimate Confirmation
The Mexican ore that was in Del Rio’s hands was examined anew by the German chemist Friedrich Wöhler, and he confirmed that the Spanish chemist really was on the trail toward discovering a new chemical element. In the end, Wöhler’s analysis of the mineral sample proved that vanadium was identical to Del Rio’s erythronium which brought the Spanish chemist back the title of the first discoverer of element 23.
The Contribution of Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe
In 1867, the English chemist Sir Henry E. Roscoe succeeded in isolating the vanadium metal by performing reduction of vanadium chloride (VCl3) with hydrogen gas (H2). In honor of his work and achievement in the field of chemistry, the vanadium mineral roscoelite got its name.
How Did Vanadium Get Its Name?
This chemical element got its name after the old Norse word ‘Vanadis‘, which is also the name of the Scandinavian goddess Freyja, also known as Vanadis. Inspired by the beautiful vanadium compounds occurring in various vivid colors, the Swedish chemist Nils Gabriel Sefström associated element 23 with the major goddess of the Nordic and Germanic pantheon.
Where Can You Find Vanadium?
This chemical element is never found naturally in its pure elemental form. It mostly occurs in a form of organic complexes in the iron ores, volcanic, and phosphate rocks, as well as in ash from the combustion of fossil fuels (crude oils), the aluminum ore bauxite, slag from phosphate ore, etc. Vanadium compounds can be also found in seawater, freshwaters, and various food sources. In this regard, element 26 is the second most abundant transition metal that occurs naturally in the oceans. Its abundance is surpassed only by molybdenum.
Element 23 can be obtained from different minerals, among which vanadinite, roscoelite, carnotite, and patronite are the most exploited ones. Nowadays, vanadium is mainly obtained as a byproduct of the mineral ores of vanadinite (Pb5(VO)3Cl), magnetite (Fe3O4), patronite (VS4), and carnotite (K2(UO2)2VO4·1-3H2O). The process of isolation of vanadium from these ores starts by heating the crushed ore in the presence of carbon and chlorine. This chemical reaction produces vanadium trichloride which is then heated with magnesium in an argon atmosphere. Pure vanadium metal can be also obtained by metallothermic reduction of vanadium pentoxide.
The world’s largest vanadium ore mines are located in South Africa (in the Bushveld region), Russia (in the Kachkanar Massif of the Ural Mountains), Brazil (the high-grade Maracas mine), and China (Sichuan province). These countries are also the leading vanadium producers that provide over 90% of all vanadium supplies worldwide.
List of Vanadium Minerals
Naturally-occurring vanadium can be traced in the following minerals:
- Native vanadium
List of Vanadate Minerals
The salts in which the anion contains both vanadium and oxygen is referred to as vanadate. It mainly occurs in the minerals listed below:
Vanadium in Everyday Life
The use of vanadium in everyday life is mostly related to the strong anticorrosive properties. The vanadium metal is also often used in metal alloys for an added firmness of the alloy.
- Vanadium is extensively used in the manufacturing of electric car batteries;
- The chemical industry utilizes vanadium in the manufacturing of tubing and piping used in the laboratories;
- The atomic power industry and nuclear reactors make use of vanadium’s low low fission neutron cross-section;
- Used as a strengthening agent and steel additive, vanadium metal is used in the production process of steel and steel alloys;
- In circular saws, drill bits, and engine turbines, vanadium metal is used due to its property to maintain its hardness at high temperatures;
- Jet engines and high-speed airframes are made with vanadium-aluminum alloys which give them both firmness and lightness.
- The hardest working parts of engines like gears and axles, as well as bicycle frames, crankshafts, armor plates, springs, cutting tools, piston rods, drive shafts, are made with vanadium-steel alloys for added durability;
- Superconducting magnets are made with vanadium-gallium tape;
- The vanadium redox battery (also known as the vanadium flow battery) use vanadium’s multiple valence states to store and release charges in a water-based electrolyte containing vanadium salts;
- Vanadium pentoxide has a wide application as a catalyst and mordant for dyeing and printing fabrics. It’s also used in the manufacturing process of aniline black, as well as in the ceramics industry;
- Vanadium foil is often applied as a bonding agent for cladding steel with titanium. During this process, thin sheets of vanadium are layered between the aforementioned metals to serve as a bond.
Vanadium and Health
In the human body, this trace element participates in cellular growth, redox, and signaling processes, as well as in the function of enzymes. As a micronutrient, vanadium is considered to have beneficial effects such as proper thyroid function, in the treatment of diabetes, cancer, production of certain hormones, as well as bone health. By inhibiting the formation of cholesterol in the blood, vanadium also may prevent heart attacks and significantly lower the risk of other cardiovascular diseases.
Vanadium and Osteoporosis
The same way vanadium metal is used in alloys to add strength to various types of metals, this trace mineral supports the firmness and strength of our bones. According to a study conducted by the Department of Nutritional Sciences, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, United States, vanadium supplements contribute to an increased bone mineral concentration. The scientific evidence also shows that vanadium promotes osteogenesis, i.e. the bone-forming process.
Vanadium in Food
The human body absorbs only 5% of the vanadium quantities we intake from food. While elemental vanadium is rarely found in food, vanadium compounds can be naturally found in a wide range of dietary sources, such as:
- Dill seeds;
- Black pepper;
- Whole-grain bread;
- green beans;
- Sunflower oil;
- Artificially sweetened beverages;
While there are no established RDAs for vanadium, the recommended daily intake of this trace mineral is 20-30 milligrams per day. Vanadium supplements are typically prescribed in cases with vanadium deficiency.
What Is Vanadium Deficiency?
When the absorbed quantities of vanadium in the human body are extremely small, it’s a case of vanadium deficiency. In this regard, it’s worth noting the fact that both vanadium deficiency and excess absorption of this trace mineral in the body’s tissues occur rarely. There’s approximately one milligram of vanadium absorbed in the human body.
What Are the Symptoms of Vanadium Deficiency?
Low absorption of vanadium in our body may lead to adverse health effects, such as:
- Chronic thirst;
- Chronic weight loss;
- Frequent urination;
- Cardiovascular problems;
- Impaired kidney function;
- High cholesterol levels in the blood;
- Hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels);
- Weakness of the muscular tissue of the heart;
How Dangerous Is Vanadium?
While elemental vanadium is not an exceptionally dangerous substance, all vanadium compounds are highly toxic. Also, the powdered metallic form of vanadium presents a fire hazard.
The larger the oxidation state of vanadium is, the more toxic are its compounds. Following this rule of chemistry, vanadium pentoxide is the most dangerous compound of element 26. Prolonged exposure to large amounts of both dust and fumes of vanadium pentoxide may lead to severe cases of vanadium toxicity. The affected individual typically experiences some of the following symptoms and conditions:
- Irritation of eyes, lungs, and mucous membranes of the nose;
- Severe headaches;
- Breathing difficulty;
- Skin rash;
- Behavioral changes;
- Cognitive problems.
Environmental Effects of Vanadium
Nowadays, the global biogeochemical cycle of vanadium is heavily influenced by human activities. Namely, being one of the pillars of modern technology, the industries that use vanadium in their manufacturing processes increasingly contribute to the pollution of our environment by releasing vanadium-rich waste products.
Isotopes of Vanadium
There are 24 forms of element 26 with atomic mass that ranges from 40V to 65V. Naturally occurring vanadium consists of one isotope (vanadium-51) and one radioisotope (vanadium-50 with a half-life of 1.5×1017 years).
The decay mode of the most abundant stable isotope 51V is electron capture. Beta decay is the second most common isotope mode of vanadium. While titanium (Ti) isotopes are primary products before vanadium-51, chromium (Cr) isotopes are primary products after the vanadium-51 isotope.
|Z||N||Isotopic mass (Da)
[n 2][n 3]
[n 4][n 5]
[n 8][n 5]
|Natural abundance (mole fraction)||Note|
|Excitation energy[n 5]||Normal proportion||Range of variation|
|44V||23||21||43.97411(13)||111(7) ms||β+ (>99.9%)||44Ti||(2+)|
|β+, α (<.1%)||40Ca|
|50V[n 9]||23||27||49.9471585(11)||1.4(4)×1017 y||EC (83%)||50Ti||6+||0.00250(4)||0.002487–0.002502|
|51V||23||28||50.9439595(11)||Stable||7/2−||0.99750(4)||0.997498–0.997513||See V-51 nuclear magnetic resonance|
|56V||23||33||55.95053(22)||216(4) ms||β− (>99.9%)||56Cr||(1+)|
|57V||23||34||56.95256(25)||0.35(1) s||β− (>99.9%)||57Cr||(3/2−)|
|β−, n (<.1%)||56Cr|
|58V||23||35||57.95683(27)||191(8) ms||β− (>99.9%)||58Cr||3+#|
|β−, n (<.1%)||57Cr|
|59V||23||36||58.96021(33)||75(7) ms||β− (>99.9%)||59Cr||7/2−#|
|β−, n (<.1%)||58Cr|
|60V||23||37||59.96503(51)||122(18) ms||β− (>99.9%)||60Cr||3+#|
|β−, n (<.1%)||59Cr|
|64V||23||41||63.98347(75)#||10# ms [>300 ns]|
List of Vanadium Compounds
Vanadium is a moderately reactive chemical element. There are three oxidation states that offer stability to the atomic core of vanadium: +3, +4, and +5. Vivid colors and high toxicity are the most characteristic traits of vanadium compounds.
- Vanadium carbide
- Vanadium hexacarbonyl
- Vanadium nitride
- Vanadium oxydichloride
- Vanadium oxytrichloride
- Vanadium pentafluoride
- Vanadium phosphate
- Vanadium tetrachloride
- Vanadium tetrafluoride
- Vanadium(II) bromide
- Vanadium(II) chloride
- Vanadium(II) iodide
- Vanadium(II) oxide
- Vanadium(II) sulfate
- Vanadium(III) acetylacetonate
- Vanadium(III) bromide
- Vanadium(III) chloride
- Vanadium(III) fluoride
- Vanadium(III) iodide
- Vanadium(III) oxide
- Vanadium(III) sulfate
- Vanadium(IV) oxide
- Vanadium(V) chloride
- Vanadium(V) chloride chlorimide
- Vanadium(V) oxide
- Vanadium(V) oxytrifluoride
- Vanadyl acetylacetonate
- Vanadyl ion
- Vanadyl perchlorate
- Vanadyl sulfate
- Vanadyl isopropoxide
- Vanadyl nitrate
5 Interesting Facts and Explanations
- Ascidians (sea squirts) use vanadium as a part of their chemical defense against predators in nature.
- The application of vanadium in the steel framework of the Model T Ford automobile was the first major industrial use of this transition metal. This allowed for both a lighter and firmer weight frame.
- Since vanadium is present in the vanadium nitrogenase enzyme, this transition metal can be of essential importance for some organisms, such as cyanolichens and algae.
- Vanadium concentration in nature is higher in the areas rich with volcanic and sedimentary rocks. For instance, a vanadium concentration of 180 μg V L−1 has been recorded near Mt. Etna, Italy. On the other hand, the vanadium concentration in fresh waters is typically below 1 μg L−1, while dissolved vanadium concentration in sea waters is 1.8 μg L−1.
- Element 23 belongs to a broader group of transition metals of the periodic table, classified in the d-block as Group 5 without a trivial name. It contains the elements vanadium (V), niobium (Nb), tantalum (Ta), and dubnium (Db).