How many buildings have you visited? Or how many do we visit in a lifetime? Can’t keep a track of that right because architecture is what we all are surrounded by and is a part of life. Now Out of all those buildings, you have visited, how many were there whose material you appreciated? 

Barely a few, because when we tend to look at something the human tendency is to embrace the beauty but do not concern ourselves with the reason or idea behind it. The thought and creativity or the money invested in a project never suffice for a structure to come to life. 

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The important aspect is MATERIAL being used which impart aesthetics and essence to a building. From the time of a single material being used in a building to different elements in every nook and corner of the building, the evolution is varying and at a grand scale which depicts how important it is to understand the materiality in architecture. The meticulous choice of materials in a structure can result in a healthy and safe design.

The materials help decipher the historical context and era of construction along highlighting the theme of the design. The site budget is based on the kind of materials used and can be increased or decreased according to the availability of materials in the area of construction or the facility of transportation to the site. We have a different variety of materials for building construction each having significant or not so significant impacts on the environment. 

To ensure a safer and greener environment designers are moving towards alternatives for different construction materials. The alternative material choices help impart additional features to the structure and reduce harmful impacts on the environment to an extent. These can be used as raw materials such as bamboo, papercrete, ferrock, or as a combination with some other material. Alternative materials can be cost-effective, more durable, and provide better efficiency to a design. Moreover, these materials ensure judicious use of available resources with the least degradation of the environment.

What is Vanadium?

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Vanadium with a body-centered cubic lattice crystal structure is a soft grey metal with good structural strength and ductility. Different mineral and fossil fuel deposits account for the occurrence of Vanadium in chemically combined forms, 65 forms of deposits to be specific. The important vanadium minerals are Patronite, Carnotite, and Vanadite and the world’s largest mines are from Titaniferous magnetite reserves in Bushveld of South Africa, the Kachkanar Massif of the Ural mountains, and China’s Sichuan province. It is mostly used as an alloy rather than an independent element. 

As an alloy, it imparts strength and stability to the components it is added to, that is why it is used as an alloy to steel used in the building construction industry. Even less than 0.2% addition of vanadium to steel enhances its toughness and robustness owing to the grain refining property of vanadium carbide precipitates. Generally, all the tools made of steel have a part of vanadium to ensure retention of hardness and cutting ability at high temperatures.

Evolution of Vanadium

Vanadium was first discovered in 1801 by a Spanish mineralogist named Andrés Manuel del Rio who named the element Erythronium due to the red color of one of its compounds. A Swedish scientist Nils Gabriel Sefstron rediscovered it in 1830 and named it Vanadium after Vanadis who is the Scandinavian goddess of beauty due to the different beautiful colors of its compounds in solutions. 

Since the early 1900s, it has been acting as an iron and steel alloy. It was produced on a commercial scale in 1907 by an American company as ferrovanadium- one of its compounds. Ever since, it has been produced mainly by the three major producers of the world, South Africa, Russia, and China in that order quantitatively. The demand for Vanadium amounts to 40,000 tons of metal annually and the increase in demand seen in the past 10 -12 years is due to the intensive research by VANITEC (Vanadium International Technical Committee).

Extraction of Vanadium

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Vanadium Extraction Plant_©

The most used form of vanadium is Ferrovanadium that accounts for around 98% of its consumption. It is extracted in an electric furnace from melted scrap iron and vanadium pentoxide which itself is derived from Titaniferous magnetite ore. The low-grade vanadium slags can be used as an alternative for producing ferrovanadium instead of vanadium oxides. Moreover, the resultant slag in the extraction process can be used in the cement industry. 

Vanadium: An Electric Metal

Vanadium is coined as an electric metal as its electron-deficient state allows it to form more stable nitrides and carbides when added to iron. It has been used since the 1800s as a steel strengthener when it was used to armor steel in the hull of battleships. It is also referred to as plastic of the 21st century as it creates super light and high-strength alloys. 

The main reason to use vanadium over other metals imparting similar properties is its minimal quantity used which makes it extremely cost-effective. It is used in welded and seamless tubular columns in airports and large unsupported spans in sports stadiums. One such example is Wembley Stadium in London which is a football stadium inaugurated in 2007 where vanadium is used as an alloy in steel modules to ingress maximum strength in the structure.

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Wembley Stadium, London_©

Vanadium is used as an alloy in making steel plates for box girders or other kinds of bridges to increase stability. An example of a vanadium used bridge is Bothasfontein Interchange Bridge in South Africa which is a box girder bridge design and uses vanadium with other alloys strengthening the design.

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Bothasfontein Interchange Bridge_©

Mostly in North America vanadium is used as-rolled steel sections in frames and roofs of industrial buildings. Sears Building in Chicago is a 108 story skyscraper that is one of the tallest buildings in the world and it used steel sections that had vanadium as an alternative material.

Sears Tower_©

Overall, Vanadium also enhances the fire and earthquake resistance properties of steel. It is also used in construction machinery cranes in their booms to reduce their weight and enable heavier load lifting. It is also added to the bars that are utilized in prestressed concrete structures and suspension ropes. Steel castings with vanadium exhibit shock and wear resistance properties.

Some more examples of vanadium instill designs are Freedom tower in New York, Shanghai World Finance Centre, Central Plaza in Hongkong, Lee House in London, and Birds Nest in Beijing.

Vanadium as a Green Metal

Vanadium is an integral option being considered for a green and energy-efficient construction drive as it results in a major reduction in carbon footprint and embodied energy. It is taking the front stage at a slow pace to reduce the usage of steel in the construction industry as every ton of it produces 2 tons of carbon every year. 

Hypothetically, if in a building 600 Mpa steel is used in construction, vanadium use can reduce the embodied energy to 26.6% and embodied carbon to 18.83%. This puts into the picture how this metal can be used in the construction industry as an alloying element to design energy-efficient and environment-savvy buildings. 


  1. Capital 10X. 2021. Punching Above Its Weight – A New Study Confirms our Insights on Vanadium | Capital 10X. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 August 2021].
  2. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2021. Vanadium processing. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 August 2021].
  3. 2021. About Vanadium | Next Source. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 August 2021].
  4. 2021. Construction | Vanitec. [online] Available at: <,employed%20in%20buildings%20and%20bridges.&text=For%20example%20high%20strength%20steels,heavier%20loads%20to%20be%20lifted.> [Accessed 29 August 2021].
  5. Antrekowitsch, H., Luidold, S. and Gaugl, H., 2021. Thermodynamic Calculations of the Production of Ferrovanadium from V-containing Steelworks Slags with a low Content of V2O5. Part 1.

Aastha is an architecture graduate who is enthusiastic about playing with words and inditing the stories waiting to be told. Apart from being an expressionist she is an avid reader and a philomath on a journey to make a difference with her deeds.

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