Tungsten also known as Wolfram is the strongest naturally occurring metal on Earth.
Discovered In 1781 by a chemist named Carl Wihelm Scheele, tungsten has the highest melting point which is 3422° C (6192° F) and lowest vapor pressure. It also has the highest tensile strength (the maximum stress it can withstand before deformation or breakage) at temperatures above 1650° C (3000° F). It is extremely resistant to corrosion and can be attacked only slightly by most mineral acids. When exposed to air, a protective oxide is formed on the surface of the metal; tungsten can be oxidized more fully at high temperatures. When alloyed in small quantities with steel, tungsten greatly increases the hardness of steel.
The applications of tungsten are wide, being used mainly in the use of high-temperature applications because of high melting point such as light bulbs, heating elements, aerospace, radiation shielding, and rocket engine nozzles. Because of its strength it is also used in cutting tools for machining steel.
I first became interested in tungsten for its military uses, what young solider didn’t fantasize about firing an armor piecing round down range at the enemy?
The strategic value of tungsten became obvious in the early 1900's.
During WWI Tungsten had been recognized as an important element to making armaments and the Germans used tungsten during World War II to produce shells for an anti-tank gun using the Gerlich squeeze bore principle to achieve a very high muzzle velocity which enhanced armor penetration for a comparatively small caliber weapon and for light weight field artillery. This development made the Germans more mobile and able to neutralize the Allies heavily armored tanks more effectively. The weapons were highly effective but a shortage of tungsten used in the shell core limited that effectiveness.
Modernly tungsten is used in more military applications; militarizes around the world use it to produce a variety of armaments including armor piercing bullets and fragmentation weapons like grenades and rockets that have a devastating effect on the target because of their penetration power.
Tungsten got more popular with the US military when it started to move away from using depleted uranium for ammunition and towards tungsten after the Gulf War. In Kuwait they found that depleted uranium rounds had left a toxic dust behind causing an environment issue.
Another popular military application of this metal is in military vehicles, helicopters, aircraft and armored vehicles. They use tungsten in helicopters to even out the weight of the rotors, skids or the nose. Tungsten has an atomic mass of 183 grams per mole making it very heavy making it ideal for load bearing.
Today my interest in Tungsten are how it is used to the exploration of energy, it is often used for hard steel drill bits for oil and gas exploration helping explorers to go deeper and into harder substances.
Tungsten is sometimes used in jewelry which I find to be humorous since it is semi-toxic and has left from interesting marks on people’s fingers.
Supply of tungsten is tight with less than a dozen mines supplying most of the world’s supply, most of them are under control of restrictive regimes or even worse from areas controlled by warlords. China produces the vast majority of the world’s supply of tungsten and is still a net importer. Other producers of tungsten are listen in the order of the size of the element that they produce Russia, Canada, Bolivia, Vietnam, Portugal, Austria, Rwanda, Spain, Brazil, Australia, Peru, Burundi, Myanmar, Korea, Thailand, Mongolia, and Uganda.
Over the years some smart money has made some moves into tungsten but the cycle to production is at least three to five years, but there is always a fear that the larger suppliers will flood the market with supply putting new miners out of business unless there is some type of state sponsorship.