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Tungsten

Tungsten (symbol W) is an extremely hard, heavy, steel-gray metal that is one of the heaviest of all the elements, amazing for its strong physical properties and vast uses. It has the highest melting point of all the non-alloyed metals (3,410°C), the lowest vapor pressure and the highest tensile strength (19.3 gms/cc).As it weighs about the same as gold, it is often used to produce fake gold bars, plated with real gold.
Tungsten does not occur naturally in its pure metallic state; rather, it is found in several ores, including wolframite and scheelite. Most of the world's reserves are in China, which supplies more than 80% of the world's demand. Tungsten is also found in Australia, Bolivia, USA, Russia, Portugal and Korea. Tungsten is a metal with unique properties making it an essential component in many industrial applications. Critical properties include - very high melting point, very high density, hardness close to diamond, thermally and chemically stable, excellent conductor, and environmentally benign.

The most important use is as tungsten carbide in hardmetals, used mainly for industrial drilling and cutting tools. Secondary uses are in electronics and specialist steels. China accounts for over 80% of world tungsten mine production; western world supply is very limited. USA, Europe and Japan consume ~55% of world tungsten, but produce only ~5%. Chinese domestic demand has increased, and China has moved from a net exporter to net importer of tungsten concentrates.

Concerns over security of supply of tungsten concentrates to western processors and industry end-users resulted in the EU categorising tungsten as a "critical raw material". Tungsten demand is forecasted to grow by 5-8% annually between 2012 and 2016. Growth markets for tungsten are still being identified, such as nickel-tungsten alloys that could replace chrome plating and nickel-tungsten alloys that could replace gold-nickel plating. Tungsten, with essential applications in industry, aerospace and military, is a strategic commodity. US, Russia, China and Japan have indicated that they have or intend to build stockpiles.

As tungsten is connected to steel production, and this in turn is connected to China, my expectations are that tungsten prices will remain below $30/kg for several years to come.

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