But it is also, now, a net importer, for domestic consumption, of the metal, both as carbide and as concentrate. According to figures published by Metal-Pages, in the first quarter of this year, China imported 659 tonnes of tungsten carbide (with Japan and the U.S. being its largest suppliers) and 2,234 tonnes of tungsten concentrates (with its largest suppliers being Russia and Canada).
Since 2009, Chinese domestic demand for primary tungsten has significantly outstripped that of the rest of the world, and there is no reason to believe that as the country continues to move more toward adding value to products, and away from trade in raw and unprocessed materials, its appetite for tungsten will diminish any time soon.
China's Increasing Domestic Demand vs. RoW Demand (Primary Tungsten)
Source: Ormonde Mining PLC (from ITIA data, 2011)
And as if China's position as a tungsten producer was not secure enough, back in early June, the country announced the discovery of the world's largest tungsten mine with "proven reserves of 1.06 million tons and an estimated economic value of over 300 billion yuan, in Wuning county, Jiangxi Province." (However, little has been heard of it since.)
While this Chinese mine may be the largest in the world, the world's fourth-largest (with "Measured, Indicated and Inferred" mineral resources of some 401,400 tonnes) is, surprisingly, down in the English West Country at Hemerdon, near Plymouth, in Devon. If and when Wolf Mineral Limited's mine finally gets into production, it should account for around 3.5 percent of the metal's global supply.
But with the announcements the company made in the early part of this year regarding not only environmental issues, but also both funding and offtake agreements, things look encouraging.
For those who may not have found just the basic supply and demand figures enough to persuade them to take at least a modicum of interest in the metal, perhaps the announcement of Warren Buffett-related interest in the metal back at the beginning of the year may have piqued their interest.
On Feb. 28, Woulfe Mining Corp. and its 100 percent-owned tungsten/molybdenum South Korean subsidiary, Sangdong Mining Corp., announced that they had "entered into agreements for a strategic arrangement with IMC International Metalworking Companies B.V. ("IMC") and certain of IMC's affiliates."
Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway owns some 80 percent of IMC, one of the world's largest metal-working products holding companies. During the year, the "arrangement" progressed quite constructively, and as recently as Oct. 9, Woulfe announced the "First Blast of Production Portal of Sangdong Project."
One of the most interesting developments in the world of tungsten over the past several years has been the significant increase in the recycling of tungsten scrap.
According to USGS figures (in the U.S. anyway), in 2007, "the tungsten contained in scrap consumed by processors and end users" represented approximately 31 percent, and in 2010, 37 percent, "of apparent consumption of tungsten in all forms." In 2011, this figure had jumped to some 55 percent—really a significant increase. Going forward, this figure looks set to rise further.