Chinese firm buys SA vanadium mine as flow battery technology gains momentum

A growing interest in alternative technologies for energy storage in China has been backed up by the acquisition of a vanadium mine in South Africa on September 14 by the Chinese firm International Resources Limited.

The Mapochs mine, in Mpumalanga province, was sold under business rescue at auction by the group Evraz Highveld Steel and Vanadium, which went bust in 2015. Waiting eagerly in the wings was IRL, a Hong Kong-based resources company that bought the stockpile but not the mining rights or equipment at the time Evraz collapsed.

China does have its own vanadium resources, almost 50% of which are in the southern mountainous region of Sichuan, according to the China Chemicals Market. Most is used in the steel industry, but the energy storage market is emerging, with projects like the one in the north coastal city of Dalian, where the world’s biggest flow battery was due to be installed last autumn (awaiting confirmation of this).

Chinese firm Rongke Power joined forces with the US firm UniEnergy Technologies to install the battery, an 800 MWh flow battery, which will provide peak shaving and grid stabilization once it goes online next year.

Rongke opened a ‘Gigafactory’ to produce vanadium flow battery modules in China last year. This has a capacity of up 300MW/1200MWh a year, which will be enough to produce battery modules for other projects at the same time as the Dalian battery, says Russ Weed, vice-president of business development and marketing at UET.