The Price of Tungsten reaches Historic Highs

A metal that has so many unique properties tungsten is invaluable in many industrial applications. Tungsten has the highest melting point of all the elements except carbon, and its density is higher than lead. When you dissolve tungsten in carbon you end up with a product called tungsten carbide capable of being used in the machining trade as cutting tools and drills. In the mining industry is used to manufacture carbon button drills for both petroleum and mining uses. In military applications tungsten carbide is used as the core of armor piercing artillery rounds, and rocket nozzles because it is capable of standing up to the high temperatures involved. This is another metal that the world is coming to depend on China for most of its supply even though its ores that are widespread are considered to be gangue for many other metals including gold.

A sintered tungsten bar.
Photo by Jurgii

Like rare earth metals China has lowered its export quotas for tungsten since 2008. This year it has been lowered to the extent the quota stands at 15,700 tons, this is a reduction of 300 tons over the year 2010. This has resulted in an extremely tight market for the metal along with increased demand has sent the prices as of February 23 to $50 per kilogram representing a new all-time high.

China has ceased exports of concentrate, and Rob materials, but they will export semi-refined and refined powders. In the years 2004 in five the recycling component of tungsten was only around 5%, but it has reached as high as 35%. While the Chinese limited the amount of tungsten coming to the world market the results of this recycling effort has acted as a buffer, but now it has reached the ceiling.

A rotary hammer drill bit with tungsten carbide inserts.

The cause of the present shortages can be laid to low prices as well as a lack of buyers that forced many tungsten miners to cease production. When the market started coming back the inventories of the model were quickly depleted. This caused the initial attempt to restock while the balance between recycled tungsten increased just as the amount of exports from China dwindled. This is caused a sudden spike in the cost of tungsten.