London: UK, June 25, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The meteoric price rises of 2017 were a result of demand and supply-side factors.  On the demand side, by far the most important factor was the high expectation for future vanadium demand owing to new rebar standards in China, which mandated the use of microalloying agents like vanadium in construction steels.  There was a strong expectation of higher and sustained demand for vanadium in China, which was supported by substantial purchasing/re-stocking in 2017.  Added to this, there was considerable excitement over vanadium redox flow batteries (VRBs), which also supported a positive demand outlook. 

This bullish outlook for demand was set against a period tightening supply.  Global feedstock capacity had been considerably diminished in 2015 when Evraz Highveld shut down in South Africa.  The Highveld operation accounted for more than 10% of global feedstock supply.  However, there was no meaningful price reaction to the Highveld closure in 2015 as global inventories were high, but these were gradually drawn down between 2015 and 2017.  This, together with some temporary shutdowns in China and the rest of the world, and a Chinese ban on the import of vanadium-bearing slags, meant feedstock availability was tightening at a time when demand was set to explode. 

High prices, however, were not sustained and the subsequent price correction was also brought about by a combination of demand and supply-side factors.  With regard to the former, demand did not increase as sharply as expected.  Chinese steel mills were implementing new rebar standards prior to the official enforcement date (November 1st 2018) while smaller mills beneficiated from a ‘tolerance period’ allowing them to comply with new rebar regulations gradually.  Further, high vanadium prices drove numerous steel mills to substitute ferrovanadium with ferroniobium to a larger-than-expected scale, which resulted in a lower-than-expected vanadium demand.  In addition, higher prices drove out the economics of VRBs and stalled progress on development.  Lower-than-expected demand was met with higher-than-expected supply in 2019 as Chinese co-producers increased their output by nearly 19% year-on-year, resulting ultimately, in a balanced market that erased the price gains of the previous two years.  

The short-term outlook for vanadium will be largely determined by the impact of COVID-19.  Roskill’s view is that the Chinese steel industry will be relatively insulated from the impacts of the pandemic as infrastructure spending offsets lower steel exports, both directly and indirectly.  As a result, vanadium demand should be sustained by Chinese consumption.  Nonetheless, in the ROW, a drop in steel production will negatively impact demand for vanadium.

Over the longer term, the outlook for vanadium demand is positive with all major end-uses (steel, non-ferrous alloys, chemicals, and batteries) expected to drive growth.  There is uncertainly, although considerable potential upside, regarding the future scale of demand for VRBs, which will have to overcome several challenges including the high price of vanadium pentoxide as an electrolyte on their road to commercialisation.  On the supply side, Roskill believes that there is a limit to the extent to which co-producers and primary producers can scale up their capacities, suggesting that additional vanadium units will need to come from new projects, or perhaps more secondary vanadium recovery, if the market is to maintain balance.

Zoe Cripps
Roskill Information Services Ltd
+44 (0)20 8417 0087