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Why new production sources of tungsten are critical for increased global supply

Commentaries & Views

The Coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the U.S. and global economies, particularly as businesses and manufacturers shuttered their doors while employees were either told to stay home or outright furloughed. This damaged the global trade markets causing an 11-year low of 41.5% in the April report for the Institute for Supply Management’s Manufacturing Index. However, the worst of the pandemic may be behind us as the Index climbed to 43.1% in April as reported recently1 in Marketwatch.

As manufacturers set to ramp back up to produce everything from automobiles, airplanes, and construction tools, they will begin to return to normal production cycles. This also means they will face their normal litany of production challenges, which includes dealing with a strained supply chain on certain critical raw materials, such as tungsten.

Tungsten: 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 people rarely ever think about.

Tungsten is valuable because of its strength and durability, and it offers one of the highest melting points of all elements on the periodic table. There would be no rockets and aerospace propel 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 Domination of Tungsten Sourcing

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 USGS in its Mineral Commodity Summaries 2019 report2, “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.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect those of Kitco Metals Inc. The author has made every effort to ensure accuracy of information provided; however, neither Kitco Metals Inc. nor the author can guarantee such accuracy. This article is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not a solicitation to make any exchange in commodities, securities or other financial instruments. Kitco Metals Inc. and the author of this article do not accept culpability for losses and/ or damages arising from the use of this publication.