New production sources for tungsten are critical for increased global supply
Little known tungsten has a multitude of use cases
In the wake of the pandemic, as manufacturers ramp back up to produce everything from automobiles to airplanes, they will face the normal litany of production challenges, which includes dealing with a strained supply chain on certain critical raw materials, such as tungsten.
Tungsten is the most valuable material you’ve never heard of. Tungsten is frequently used to make items that aren’t considered everyday products, but nevertheless are critical for almost everything that’s important, such as core drilling bits and diamond drilling bits used by the mining industry.
Among the most durable elements found on earth, tungsten is also used in more everyday items such as lamps, transistors and alloys, as well as construction tools and components in airplanes and automobiles. It is one of the most important raw materials on Earth.
Tungsten is valuable because of its strength and durability, and because it offers one of the highest melting points of all elements on the periodic table. There would be no rockets or aerospace propulsion systems without it.
However, sourcing Tungsten has been a great challenge since there are no mines in the U.S. that produce this precious raw material.
China’s tungsten domination
China controls the market for nearly 35 precious minerals and metals that are important to the U.S. for production and manufacturing, and tungsten is among them. According to the United States Geological Service (USGS) in its Mineral Commodity Summaries 2019 report 2, “World tungsten supply was dominated by production in China and exports from China.”
Furthermore, the second largest tungsten supplier, located in Vietnam, had sourced 6 million metric tons last year. Other regions outside of the U.S. such as Russia, Austria and the United Kingdom are also known to have important tungsten sources.
The issue at hand is that China has limited the amount of tungsten exports that can be shipped to the U.S., and this has caused great concern about the overall supply chain of tungsten.
“China’s government regulated its tungsten industry by limiting the number of mining and export licenses, imposing quotas on concentrate production, and placing constraints on mining and processing,” according to the USGS’ report2.
Tungsten and the global supply chain
Fortunately, new entrants into the market have begun tungsten mining projects throughout the world. These efforts are critically important to increase supply levels and exports back to the U.S., which will benefit the overall global supply chain of tungsten for production and manufacturing.
One project of particular importance is the Korea Tungsten project located in the Sangdong Mine of South Korea, which hosts one of the largest tungsten resources in the world. This mine was the leading global tungsten producer for more than 40 years and it has the potential to produce 50% of the world’s tungsten supply. The project has become a center of focus recently for resource experts, miners, investors, shareholders, and other interested parties around the globe.
Global economies are anxiously awaiting production of tungsten from this region, especially since it will ease China’s stranglehold on the overall supply. What’s more, U.S. manufacturers are keenly watching, since additional supply of tungsten from South Korea would help avoid expensive U.S. import tariffs of goods shipped from China.
Here’s hoping the Sangdong Mine will be only one example of relief U.S. and global manufacturers will see from the mining and production of tungsten as a means to enhancing its global supply chain, sorely needed for some of today’s most important uses.