Properties and Uses
Tungsten is the hardest of all metals. It is over three times harder than chromium, cobalt and titanium and over five times harder than nickel, iron and platinum. It is also the strongest of all metals and alloys well with other metals. It has the highest melting temperature of all metals and displays high resistance to corrosion.
The main use for tungsten is in the manufacture of cemented carbides or hard-metals, which are wear-resistant materials used in metal working, mining, petroleum and the construction industries. The steel sector is a primary consumer of tungsten for use in stainless and full alloy steels, and superalloys. It is also used in light bulbs and has various military uses.
There have been very few new applications for tungsten in recent years and most end use markets are relatively mature. This means that average growth rates tend to be generally in line with cyclical economic activity. However, a recent report by GBRM Ltd concluded that over the five years to 2012 global consumption of tungsten is expected to grow by approximately 35%.
China is the world’s largest producer of tungsten and controls approximately 67% of world reserves. Supply of tungsten metal is tight with the next largest reserves being in Canada (8%) and Russia (7%). Very few new mines have opened in the past three years. The supply situation is expected to worsen following the recent decision by the Chinese Government to introduce severe restrictions on the production and export of tungsten in order to conserve in-country resources and to meet increasing internal demand. These restrictions are expected to put increased pressure on tungsten prices which are currently approximately US$250/metric tonne unit (mtu) for Ammonium Para-tungstate (APT) (an intermediate tungsten product).