Vanadium is a chemical element with symbol V and atomic number 23. It is a hard, silvery grey, ductile, and malleable transition metal. The elemental metal is rarely found in nature, but once isolated artificially, the formation of an oxide layer (passivation) stabilizes the free metal somewhat against further oxidation.
Andrés Manuel del Río discovered compounds of vanadium in 1801 in Mexico by analyzing a new lead-bearing mineral he called “brown lead”, and presumed its qualities were due to the presence of a new element, which he named erythronium (derived from Greek for “red”) since, upon heating, most of the salts turned red. Four years later, however, he was (erroneously) convinced by other scientists that erythronium was identical to chromium. Chlorides of vanadium were generated in 1830 by Nils Gabriel Sefström who thereby proved that a new element was involved, which he named “vanadium” after the Scandinavian goddess of beauty and fertility, Vanadís (Freyja). Both names were attributed to the wide range of colors found in vanadium compounds. Del Rio’s lead mineral was later renamed vanadinite for its vanadium content. In 1867 Henry Enfield Roscoe obtained the pure element.
Vanadium occurs naturally in about 65 different minerals and in fossil fuel deposits. It is produced in China and Russia from steel smelter slag; other countries produce it either from the flue dust of heavy oil, or as a byproduct of uranium mining. It is mainly used to produce specialty steel alloys such as high-speed tool steels. The most important industrial vanadium compound, vanadium pentoxide, is used as a catalyst for the production of sulfuric acid.
Large amounts of vanadium ions are found in a few organisms, possibly as a toxin. The oxide and some other salts of vanadium have moderate toxicity. Particularly in the ocean, vanadium is used by some life forms as an active center of enzymes, such as the vanadium bromoperoxidase of some ocean algae.