Which countries account for the most tungsten production? China leads the world by a large margin.
Tungsten has many uses, including in the making of electrical wires, and for heating and electrical contacts. It is also used in welding, heavy metal alloys, turbine blades and as a lead substitute in bullets.
According to the most recent US Geological Survey report on the metal, global tungsten production came in at 79,000 metric tonnes (MT) in 2021, up slightly from 2020’s 78,400 MT.
This increase came despite tighter tungsten mining and processing regulations in China. Instead, a large boost in production of the critical metal came from Portugal, Rwanda and Spain.
Tungsten’s importance in a wide range of industrial applications, from smartphones to car batteries, means demand is likely to rise. At the same time, supply chain disruptions and increased production costs are weighing on global tungsten supply. Tungsten prices have traded relatively flat in recent years; however, rising demand alongside supply constraints is expected to push those prices higher in 2022 and beyond.
With that in mind, it’s worth being aware of which countries produce the most tungsten. Here’s an overview of the top tungsten-producing countries last year.
Mine production: 66,000 MT
China produced the same amount of tungsten in 2021 as it did in 2020, and remained the world’s largest producer by a wide margin. That said, China’s tungsten production has fallen in recent years — the Asian nation has limited the quantity of tungsten-mining and export licenses it awards, and has imposed quotas on concentrate tungsten production. The country has also recently increased environmental inspections.
In addition to being the world’s largest tungsten producer, China is the world’s top consumer of the metal. Aside from that, China has been the main source of tungsten imported into the US since 2017, reportedly representing 32 percent of total American tungsten imports between 2017 and 2020.
Mine production: 4,500 MT
Much like China, Vietnam’s tungsten production has fallen in recent years and remained flat in 2021 at 4,500 MT of the metal. Privately owned Masan Resources runs the Vietnam-based Nui Phao mine, which it says is the largest tungsten-producing mine outside China. It is also one of the lowest-cost producers of tungsten in the world.
Mine production: 2,400 MT
Russia’s tungsten production has followed that of its competitors, trending down in recent years and remaining flat in 2021. The war between Russia and Ukraine is expected to hamper Russia's ability to trade and make deliveries of tungsten to the world market as it continues to face sanctions.
Russia is a significant supplier of the metal to Europe, and restrictions on the country’s metal imports are expected to increase the continent’s dependency on Chinese imports.
Mine production: 1,400 MT
Bolivia has managed to increase its tungsten production over the past five years as a result of moves to promote the tungsten industry in the country. Its output increased to 1,400 MT in 2021 from 1,350 MT the previous year.
The Bolivian mining industry is heavily influenced by Comibol, a state-owned mining umbrella company.
Mine production: 950 MT
Rwanda produced 950 MT of tungsten in 2021, up from 840 MT in 2020.
Tungsten is one of the most common conflict minerals in the world, meaning that at least some of it is produced in conflict zones and is sold to perpetuate fighting. While Rwanda has promoted itself as a source of conflict-free minerals, concerns remain about tungsten output from the country. Fairphone, a company that promotes “fairer electronics,” is supporting conflict-free tungsten production in Rwanda.
6. Austria and Spain
Mine production: 900 MT each
European countries Austria and Spain tied as the sixth largest producers of tungsten in 2021. Austria produced 900 MT of tungsten in 2021 compared to 890 MT the previous year. Much of that production can be attributed to Wolfram’s Mittersill mine, which is located in Salzburg and hosts the largest tungsten deposit in Europe.
Spain’s tungsten production nearly doubled in 2021, up from 500 MT in the previous year.
Mine production: 620 MT
Portugal is another country on this list that saw an increase in tungsten production in 2021. It put out 620 MT of the metal, up from 550 MT the previous year.
The Panasqueira mine is Portugal’s largest tungsten-producing mine. The past-producing Borralha mine, once the nation's second top tungsten mine, is under a definitive deal to be acquired by Rafaella Resources (ASX:RFR).
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
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