Tungsten is the strongest naturally occurring metal on Earth, with a tensile strength of 1,510 megapascals. Although unknown to many investors, tungsten is thought to be formed from the explosions of massive stars, like all elements with an atomic number higher than iron.
The history of tungsten starts with Spanish nobleman Juan Jose D´Elhuyar, who was the first to isolate tungsten; however, tungsten was not officially discovered until the 18th century in Sweden.
The metal’s name is derived from the Swedish words “tung” (English: heavy) and “sten” (English: stone). However, in the periodic table, tungsten is listed under the letter W, which stands for the Germanic name “wolfram,” after the mineral wolframite.
The history of tungsten uses can be loosely linked to four discovery fields: chemicals, steel and superalloys, filaments and carbides.
Despite having many key applications, most tungsten goes toward the production of cemented carbide. Cemented carbide is so hard that the only natural material that can scratch it is a diamond. Tools made of cemented carbide are used in the aerospace, automotive and construction industries, as well as in oil and mineral exploration and mining.
Mill products, such as tungsten rods, sheets, wires, lightbulb filaments and electrical contacts, also require tungsten; that said, tungsten’s use in lightbulb filaments is declining with the introduction of new lighting technologies.
In terms of supply, tungsten is mined all over the world, though China leads the way in production. In 2016, it produced 71,000 MT of the metal, far ahead of Vietnam, the world’s second-largest tungsten producer. Russia, Bolivia and Austria are also top producers of tungsten.
One issue surrounding tungsten supply is the fact that the metal can be found in war-stricken countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo. For over a decade the extraction of resources in these areas has been linked to conflict, human rights abuses and corruption. For that reason, tungsten is known as a conflict mineral.
The following Visual Capitalist infographic will help investors learn more about the history of tungsten and its uses:
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Securities Disclosure: I, Priscila Barrera, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.