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Mineral Monday: Tungsten

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Essential for many engineering purposes Tungsten is an important part of the production of many alloys. Why? Because Tungsten is used to increase the hardness, strength, flexibility and tensile strength of steels. Almost 90 per cent of all tungsten alloys are used in mining, construction and electrical and metalworking machinery.

First identified as a new element in 1781, brothers Jose and Fausto Elhuyar are credited with its discovery.

In addition to the creation of alloys and other traditional industrial applications, Tungsten has found myriad applications including use in armaments e.g. cannon shells, grenades and missiles; niche applications such as ballast keels for yachts, tail ballast for commercial aircraft and as ballast in race cars; use in electronics (thanks to its very high melting point); and as a gold substitute for jewellery.
Where is it produced / mined?

The global production of Tungsten averaged about 68,000 tonnes in 2010. As of 2012 the largest producers were China followed (distantly) by Russia, Canada, Bolivia and Vietnam.

Controversy surrounds the production of Tungsten however. It is considered to be a ‘conflict mineral’ due to the unethical mining practices observed in the Democratic Republic of Congo:

Did you know?

• Tungsten is used as the filament in halogen tungsten lamps. These lamps use halogens like bromine and iodine to prevent the tungsten filament from degrading and are therefore more energy efficient than standard incandescent light bulbs.
• High speed steel (which can cut material at higher speeds than carbon steel) contains up to 18% tungsten.
• Tungsten Carbide (WC or W2C) is extremely hard and is used to make drill bits.
• Tungsten is one of the five major refractory metals (metals with very high resistance to heat and wear).

Tungsten. The element that makes other metals tougher!

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