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TGR: And that's increasingly becoming an issue. There really isn't a mass storage device that allows utilities to do that cost effectively at this point.
JH: Many utilities need to produce power to meet peak demand more than they need to output more electrical energy. They produce more than enough energy over the course of a day. The problem is that nobody really wants that energy at night, they want it within a few hours of the day when the air conditioning is running and the lights and computers are all on. It's a peak-power issue. But there is a technology that actually uses vanadium; it's called a vanadium-redox battery.
The storage medium in that cell is vanadium pentoxide dissolved in sulfuric acid, which effectively allows you to store industrial levels of energy. The largest vanadium-redox batteries out there are at megawatt levels, or millions of watts, power output. And they can output those millions of watts for hours at a time. They're very long-life batteries. They're deployed in a number of locations worldwide, but a number of them have been in service for years and, frankly, have not seen any significant degradation in their capabilities.
TGR: Is the advent of this energy storage technology affecting vanadium demand or is demand still mostly about the ebbs and flows of the global steel market?
JH: Most of the vanadium that's produced goes into steel or other metals as a hardening agent, but it is now being used not only in lithium batteries on the automotive side but also in standalone batteries for the utility industry. But these standalone batteries are still at an early stage. Power utilities are generally very conservative, so they're not going to do adopt new technology en masse without large amounts of test data behind it. But we're starting to get to that level of testing. There's a significant opportunity here to see vanadium demand ramp up and not just because of the recovering global steel industry.