Vanadium is a soft silver metal in group 5B of the Periodic Table. It was discovered in Mexican lead ore by Andrés María del Rio in 1801 at the Palacio de Minería (downtown, Mexico City). Because of the red color of its salts, he named it erythronium (the Greek word erythro means “red”).
Don Andrés studied in Germany where he met the young Alenxander von Humboldt and became friend with him at that time. Later, due to his close friendship with Antoine Lavoiser when he was in Paris, he was almost about to be guillotined during the Revolution.
Afterwards, María del Rio came to Mexico and began to work at Escuela de Minas, a research institute which was found little earlier by Fausto de Elhuyar (discoverer along with his brother of the chemical element Tugsten at the same place in 1783). There, he discovered this new metal inside lead mineral of reddish color that he named erythronium.
When Alexander Humboldt visited Mexico, María del Río gave him the samples from this new metal with the hope they would be analized in Germany. But, the German chemists got confused by it and they stablished it was not a new element but chromium.
Upon challenge by H. V. Colett-Desotils, del Rio withdrew his claim. In 1830 the element was rediscovered by Nils Selfstöm in iron ore. Since the element is found in compounds of many different colors, he named it “vanadium” after the Scandinavian goddess of beauty, Vanadis.
Vanadium is the nineteenth element in abundance (136 ppm) and the fifth most abundant transition element in Earth’s crust. It is found in approximately sixty-five different minerals (such as roscoelite and vanadinite), phosphate rock, iron ores, and some crude oils as organic complexes.
Since there are few concentrated deposits of vanadium compounds, it is obtained as a coproduct of refining. The element has two naturally occurring isotopes: 50V (0.25%) and 51V (99.75%).
Although vanadium is an essential trace element, its exact role has not been determined. It is found in the blood of the ascidian seaworm. A related species has vanadium concentrations of up to 1.45 percent in its blood cells. The metal may play a role in the oxygen transport system.
Vanadium reacts with most nonmetals at high reaction temperatures (660°C; 1,220°F). The compounds of vanadium reflect the varied oxidation states possible for this element. Formal oxidation states of +5 to −1 have been found, with the +4 state being the most stable.
The element has good corrosion resistance to alkali, acid, and salt water. For this reason it is used in rust resistant springs and high speed tools. Approximately 80 percent of the vanadium produced yearly is used as an additive to produce steel that has a resistance to wear. Vanadium oxide is used in ceramics and as a catalyst