by the Mineral Prospector
Prospecting for Minerals and Metals

Tungsten - Minerals and Uses

    Tungsten is a gray-white metallic element that is stable and is very resistant to acids and bases. It does, however, oxidize in air, especially at higher temperatures. It has the highest melting temperature of any metal (3422 degrees C, 6192 degrees F), and the second highest of all elements (Carbon is highest). Tungsten was named from the Swedish words "tung sten" meaning "heavy stone." 

    Tungsten is retrieved from the ore minerals scheelite (CaWO4) and wolframite ((Fe,Mn)WO4). Of the world’s tungsten reserves, nearly half are found in China. Canada and Russia also have large reserves. A significant amount of tungsten is recovered through recycling of scrap tungsten products.

    Tungsten is mixed with carbon to make a very strong, very resistant material called tungsten carbide. Tungsten carbide is used to make cutting tools and wear-resistant tools for metalworking, drilling for oil and gas, mining, and construction. These applications account for more than 60% of the tungsten consumed in the US each year.

    Because it has such a very high melting point and low vapor pressure, tungsten is used in high temperature situations. For instance, the filaments in light bulbs are made of tungsten. It is used in other applications in electronics as well.

    When added to steel, tungsten increases its strength. It is alloyed (mixed with) other metals to make "superalloys" which have special physical properties of high strength and heat resistance. Some of the applications for such superalloys are in turbine engines for jet aircraft and energy generation.

    Other alloys bearing tungsten are used for armaments, heat sinks, radiation shielding, weights and counterweights, wear-resistant parts and coatings.

    Tungsten is the only material used to make light bulb filaments. Experiments are being done with ceramic and ceramics mixed with metals to create alternative cutting materials. Cemented carbide made with tungsten carbide is still preferred to these materials.