Vanadium - Element information, properties and uses (2024)

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Chemistry in its element: vanadium


You're listening to Chemistry in its element brought to you by Chemistry World, the magazine of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

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Chris Smith

Hello, this week to an element with a role in body building and that's not just of the human kind. This is the stuff that was essential in helping to get the Model T Fords to first roll off of the production line because it strengthens steel. It's also the catalytic power behind the production of sulphuric acid and its named after the Norse God of beauty, love and fertility. And to reveal her identify here's Chris Orvig.

Chris Orvig

Vanadium, a first row transition metal in the Periodic Table, is an element of mystery. Not only was it first transported two hundred years ago from Mexico, and lost in a shipwreck along with all of the relevant lab notes by the great German scientist Baron von Humboldt, but it required discovery several times by such famous names as Wöhler, Berzelius and del Rio (who was actually talked out of his claim in 1805). Final and convincing verification came from the Swede Nils Sefström out of an oxide in iron ores in 1831. Vanadium metal was first prepared in the 1860s by English chemist Henry Enfield Roscoe. The place of vanadium as a trace element necessary for life processes has been just as tortuously argued and hotly debated through most of the last century - doubtless many organisms and other mammals require it.but do humans? A deficiency condition in humans has never been defined, but vanadium does have a medicinally relevant role as a potential treatment for diabetes mellitus, but more on this later.

Vanadium is the fifth most abundant transition metal in the earth's crust, often found with titanium and iron in their ores, and significant concentrations are found in certain coal and oil deposits, such as crude and shale oils. In its metallic state, it strengthens stainless steel and some superconducting alloys, while in its numerous ionic states it has been used spectroscopically to probe enzyme active sites and is found in both naturally occurring catalysts in seaweed and lab catalysts for oxidation chemistry. Silver vanadium oxides have a role in battery chemistry. The first large scale industrial use of vanadium metal was a century ago in the steels used to fashion the chassis of the Ford Model T car, and steel remains the main use of vanadium metal. Because vanadium is a light transition metal, not a "heavy metal" as often incorrectly claimed in the toxicology literature, vanadium metal contributes reduced weight to high tensile strength steels. The compound of greatest commercial importance is vanadium pentoxide, V2O5, which is used as a catalyst for the production of sulfuric acid, the bulk commodity chemical of greatest world production.

Tremendous versatility for an element named by Sefström for Vanadis (also known as Freyja) the Norse goddess of beauty, love and fertility. All seven oxidation states from -1 to +5 are known in inorganic chemistry, and give rise to the many beautiful colours often associated with transition metal compounds. Its multiple oxidation states, ready hydrolysis and polymerisation bestow upon vanadium a chemistry far richer and more complex than that of many elements, formation of aggregated oxyanions and sulfur complexes being just two examples. The highest three oxidation states (III, IV and V) are of significant importance in water and are the oxidation states found in the more than one hundred known vanadium minerals. The tar sands of Alberta in western Canada present a huge untapped reservoir of vanadium.

Certain marine ascidians and sea squirts concentrate vanadium up to one million fold from surrounding seawater, while mushroom species such as amanita muscaria concentrate vanadium(IV); in both cases the reasons have yet to be elucidated. Biology exploits vanadium's oxidation state promiscuity in the vanadium-dependent haloperoxidases, which were discovered in marine brown algae and seaweed in the 1980s; these are surprisingly robust marine enzymes that oxidise substrates using peroxide as an electron acceptor. There is even a vanadium nitrogenase - a vanadium nitrogen-reducing alternative to the iron-molybdenum enzyme that reduces dinitrogen to ammonia in the root-nodules of many plants.

Most conveniently for studies of vanadium(V) chemistry (that which is important in oxidation catalysis), naturally occurring vanadium is mono-isotopic - vanadium-51 has a nuclear spin of 7/2 which is useful for NMR spectroscopy. Vanadium(IV) has one unpaired 3d electron that, coupled with the nuclear spin, is exquisitely diagnostic in EPR spectroscopy - the vanadyl ion (VO2+) is a sensitive spectroscopic probe that has been used to elucidate enzyme active site structure, as well as catalytic activity.

Vanadium has significant effects on cellular growth, redox and signaling processes, as well as enzyme function. Vanadyl sulphate is a very controversial dietary supplement, popular in body-building and can often be purchased in gym shops where allowed by law. The vanadate anion is a phosphate mimic that has been used as a probe of the enzymes that transfer phosphates in cell signaling - the phosphatases and kinases. Not surprisingly vanadium shows many interesting biological properties resulting from this activity, not the least of which is its ability to enhance, but not mimic, the action of insulin, the key hormone in diabetes mellitus. This property was first shown in France in three diabetic humans and published in 1899 in La Presse Médicale. Vanadium does not act in the complete absence of insulin - hence it is an enhancer rather than a mimic of insulin. Significant efforts over the last 25 years, since John McNeill of the University of British Columbia showed that vanadate was effective in a diabetic rat model, have led to a number of vanadium compounds now being clinically investigated in humans as potential agents for the treatment of diabetes.

Chris Smith

A colourful transition metal with a sweet side. That was chemist Chris Orvig and he's based at the University of British Columbia. Next week you'll have to be sure to hold your nose.

Bernard J Bulkin

Butyl seleno mercaptan is the essential ingredient of skunk smell, and is certainly a contender for the title of the worst smelling compound. Once you have smelt it you will never forget it, nor underestimate the impact that this interesting element can have.

Chris Smith

Yuk, but thankfully you can catch up with the whole story of selenium and without having to have an unforgettable encounter with a skunk and that's all on next week's Chemistry in its Element. I'm Chris Smith, thank you for listening and goodbye.


Chemistry in its element is brought to you by the Royal Society of Chemistry and produced There's more information and other episodes of Chemistry in its element on our website

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    - Element information, properties and uses (2024)


Vanadium - Element information, properties and uses? ›

A silvery metal that resists corrosion. About 80% of the vanadium produced is used as a steel additive. Vanadium-steel alloys are very tough and are used for armour plate, axles, tools, piston rods and crankshafts. Less than 1% of vanadium, and as little chromium, makes steel shock resistant and vibration resistant.

What is 5 facts about vanadium? ›

Interactive Periodic Table of the Elements
atomic number23
melting point1,890 °C (3,434 °F)
boiling point3,380 °C (6,116 °F)
specific gravity5.96 at 20 °C (68 °F)
oxidation states+2, +3, +4, +5
2 more rows
May 16, 2024

What are the properties of vanadium 5? ›

Physical Properties
Density6.1 g/cm30.221 lb/in3
Melting point1910 °C3470 °F
Boiling point3407 °C6165 °F
Jul 29, 2013

Is vanadium a rare element? ›

Vanadium is often considered to be an uncommon element, but its abundance in the earth's crust is actually comparable to that of copper, nickel, and zinc. However, despite its abundance, it is one of the most expensive elements to recover. Ore values generally are 1.5 percent vanadium pentoxide.

Is vanadium a solid, liquid, or gas? ›

Vanadium is a gray or white, shiny powder or solid metal. It is used to make steel alloys, other Vanadium compounds, x- ray equipment, Sulfuric Acid, and synthetic rubber.

What are 6 uses of vanadium? ›

Vanadium can be used to make steel alloys, for use in space vehicles, nuclear reactors and aircraft carriers, etc. Vanadium steel alloys' strength means that they are perfectly suited to the creation of tools, axles, piston rods and as girders in construction. Vanadium can be utilised in ceramics as a pigment.

What are 3 properties of vanadium? ›

Properties of Vanadium
  • It is found as solid at STP.
  • Atomic mass of vanadium is 50.94.
  • It has blue – silvery - grey metallic appearance.
  • Its melting point is 1910 ℃.
  • Boiling point of vanadium is 3407 ℃.
  • It shows body centered cubic (bcc) crystal structure.
  • It has low density.

Is vanadium toxic to humans? ›

Everyone is exposed to low levels of vanadium in air, water, and food; however, most people are exposed mainly from food. Breathing high levels of vanadium pentoxide may cause lung damage. Ingesting vanadium can cause nausea and vomiting.

Why is vanadium so special? ›

Vanadium alloys are used in nuclear reactors because of vanadium's low neutron-absorbing properties. Vanadium(V) oxide is used as a pigment for ceramics and glass, as a catalyst and in producing superconducting magnets. Vanadium is essential to some species, including humans, although we need very little.

What is vanadium used for in everyday life? ›

Vanadium is used for treating diabetes, low blood sugar, high cholesterol, heart disease, tuberculosis, syphilis, a form of “tired blood” (anemia), and water retention (edema); for improving athletic performance in weight training; and for preventing cancer.

Is vanadium good or bad? ›

High doses of vanadium (more than 1.8 mg per day) may cause liver or kidney damage, and research suggests vanadium may be harmful to the kidneys. Other studies link high blood levels of vanadium with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Does vanadium rust? ›

Vanadium is relatively resistant to corrosion in phosphoric, sulfuric, and hydrochloric acids at 35° and 60°C, but corrodes rapidly in nitric acid solutions.

Is vanadium soft or hard? ›

Vanadium is a chemical element; it has symbol V and atomic number 23. It is a hard, silvery-grey, malleable transition metal.

Is vanadium explosive? ›

VANADIUM (FUME OR DUST) is a reducing agent. Finely divided form favors rapid or explosive reactions with oxidizing agents such as air or oxygen.

What happens when vanadium reacts with water? ›

Reaction of vanadium with water

The surface of vanadium metal is protected by an oxide layer and does not reacts with water under normal conditions.

Why is vanadium 5 Coloured? ›

The color in V2O5 is due to transition of electrons from the filled ligand orbitals (Oxide ion or O^2-) to the empty d* antibonding orbitals. This sort of a transition is called a Ligand-to-Metal Charge Transfer (LMCT). Colors associated with such complexes are intense.

How old is vanadium? ›

Vanadium was discovered in Mexico in 1801 by the Spanish mineralogist Andrés Manuel del Río. Del Río extracted the element from a sample of Mexican "brown lead" ore, later named vanadinite.

What is special about vanadium? ›

A silvery metal that resists corrosion. About 80% of the vanadium produced is used as a steel additive. Vanadium-steel alloys are very tough and are used for armour plate, axles, tools, piston rods and crankshafts.

Is vanadium in period 5? ›

Vanadium is represented by the chemical symbol V on the periodic table. Its periodic table position is in period 4 of group 5 (Vb) on the periodic table of elements. Group 5 of the periodic table also includes Niobium (Nb, Atomic number- 49) and Tantalum (Ta, Atomic number- 73).

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