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Vanadium: a Sustainable Energy- and Space-Critical Element and an Emerging Contaminant

Dr. James Watt (Chemistry/Physics)

Vanadium (V) is a potentially toxic trace element that is seeing a resurgence in the environment. In the past, V was released into the environment primarily through the combustion of fossil fuels. However, in the last 10 years there has been a considerable increase in the extraction of V driven by a combination of novel technological applications and demand for metallurgical products such as steel and aluminium. This increase poses a potential issue as V rich industrial wastes will start to become more common and our understanding of V mobility and cycling in natural systems is still limited. This presentation will serve as a call to increase the focus on V geochemistry by outlining the various vanadium related research activities undertaken at Edinburgh. We present evidence of V cycling and chemical associations from a Red mud polluted sediment 40 years after a major pollution event. This research has allowed use to understand how V is distributed and re cycled in sediments over long time periods. The research has allowed us to understand the potential risk that V poses to freshwater systems as well as informing remediation strategies. We used a combination of sequential extractions, ICP-OES, ICP-MS and XANES to identify the major operational pools of V. From our sequential extractions, we found the three largest pools of V were related to calcareous minerals, organic matter and Fe / Mn bearing phases respectively. Our XANES spectroscopy also showed that there were different V oxidation states found in the fractions. Based on these results we then suggest recommendations on future avenues of V related research to help understand the biogeochemistry of an element that is set to become a critical element in the development of a de carbonised future.