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What is Vanadium Steel?

By Angie Bates
Updated May 17, 2024
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Vanadium steel is a steel alloy which contains small amounts of the element vanadium. Used in structural steels, vanadium steel is lighter, stronger, and more durable than other types of steel alloys. Vanadium steel is used in automotive manufacturing, pipelines, buildings, bridges, and heavy machinery tools.

Vanadium is an element which is listed on the periodic table. A transition metal, it is found in nature combined with other minerals or in fossil fuel deposits. The metal may also be created commercially by using a calcium reduction process. It is a soft, brightly white metal that has a good natural strength. It is most often used in alloys.

Steel is made by combining iron, also a transition element, with small amounts of carbon to strengthen it. Alloys of steel also combine small amounts of other metals with the steel in order to increase their strength, ductility, and durability. Nickel, manganese, and chromium are all common steel alloy metals.

Usually containing less that 0.2 percent of vanadium, vanadium steel is considered a high-strength, low-alloy steel (HSLA). This steel is known for being able to be used in "as-forged" condition, which means it needs no other heat treatments, and therefore, no other alloy additions before it can be used. This is unusual since many steels need an addition of other elements, such as chromium or nickel to produce good quality steel.

Carbon-manganese (C-Mn) steel is the most common type of steel alloy used instead of vanadium. In comparisons, vanadium steel has greater ductility and is stronger and lighter than its C-Mn steel counterpart. Additionally, it is easier to weld than the C-Mn steel and uses less energy to produce.

Vanadium steel is ideal for use with heavy machinery because it creates good castings, retains a cutting edge, and exhibits very little wear even at high temperatures. It is also commonly used in cars for doors and chassis, and for joists and girders in buildings and bridges. Often desired for its lighter weight, it is also desirable for its resistance to erosion by salt water and hydrochloric and sulfuric acids.

Processing vanadium often does not harm the environment since it is usually produced from recycled materials. Generally when oil refining operations recover the catalysts they have used to refine their oil, the catalysts are then recycled and then processed, and vanadium, suitable for use in steel alloys, is recovered. Therefore, vanadium is rarely mined, so obtaining the element has little or no harmful impact on the environment.

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