Tungsten: One Of The Heaviest Metals & A Hard Act To Follow

November 19, 2012


The International Tungsten Industry Association (ITIA), on its website, notes some other interesting future possible applications for tungsten:


Some Developments In The Last Four Years

Tungsten has been in the news quite a bit over the past several years.

Not so long after publication of our first tungsten piece back in 2008, the metal featured quite visibly in the U.S. administration's review of what to do with National Defense Stockpile. And, indeed, in the Reconfiguration of the National Defense Stockpile (NDS) Report to Congress of April 2009, not only was there quite extensive discussion of tungsten's importance, one of the appendices (E) consisted of a "Department of Commerce Analysis of Tungsten," albeit based on pretty antiquated data.

With the increasing interest in strategic (or critical) metals—call them what you will—not only in the U.S., but elsewhere around the world, it was perhaps not surprising that the metal also came under the special scrutiny of the British Geological Survey (BGS).

When the BGS published its first "Risk List" of metals back in September 2011, tungsten featured prominently in its press release, but, more importantly, in the list itself. Along with antimony, the PGMs and mercury, tungsten scored 8.5 on the "Relative supply risk index." By September of this year, the metal had moved up to second place, behind the REEs, both with scores, now, of 9.5 on the "Relative supply risk index."

In the period ending March 13 of this year, concerns voiced in the U.S., the EU and also Japan, about China's dominant (and possibly abusive) position in the tungsten market had obviously not fallen on deaf ears in government because, on that day, all three "formally requested dispute settlement consultations with China in the World Trade Organization (WTO)," over export restrictions not only on rare earths and molybdenum but also tungsten.

It is actually quite difficult to discover exactly why both molybdenum and tungsten specifically were included in the complaint. On the face of it, the reason would appear to be steel and the importance of both metals in its production. (As noted already in the HAI piece on the WTO referral: "In the U.S. anyway, as far back as 2010, the United Steel Workers (USW) had, in its Section 301 trade petition dealing with 'alternative and renewable energy products,' addressed the issues of both tungsten products and rare earths. Both the USW and, on the other side of the industry, the American Iron and Steel Institute, were among the first bodies to 'applaud' the action against China at the WTO.)"

However, a simpler, and perhaps more obvious, answer may lie in one particular global shift in its end-use that has occurred over the past several years: Tungsten is now being used much more than it was in cemented carbide or hard metals. That is, it has become increasingly important to the process of making things, as opposed to being a constituent of the things being made.

China continues to dominate tungsten production globally.


Tungsten: Mine Production 2007-2011 (tonnes)

Source: United States Geological Survey


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