Wolframite is highly valued as the main source of the metal tungsten, a strong and very dense material with a high melting temperature. Tungsten is an essential material for high-quality industrial tools that are used for cutting, drilling, sawing, and abrading. Tungsten alloys are used in the manufacturing of filaments of light bulbs and X-ray tubes and in radiation shielding. Tungsten is preferred for high-temperature applications including arc-welding of electrodes and in heating of elements to extremely high temperatures, on account of the extremely high boiling point of the metal.
The world’s reserves of tungsten are 3,200,000 tonnes; they are mostly located in China (1,800,000 t), Canada (290,000 t), Russia (160,000 t), Vietnam (95,000 t) and Bolivia. As of 2017, China, Vietnam and Russia are the leading suppliers with 79,000, 7,200 and 3,100 tonnes, respectively. Canada had ceased production in late 2015 due to the closure of its sole tungsten mine. Meanwhile, Vietnam had significantly increased its output in the 2010s, owing to the major optimization of its domestic refining operations, and overtook Russia and Bolivia.
China remains the world’s leader not only in production, but also in export and consumption of tungsten products. Tungsten production is gradually increasing outside China because of the rising demand. Meanwhile, its supply by China is strictly regulated by the Chinese Government, which fights illegal mining and excessive pollution originating from mining and refining processes.
There is a large deposit of tungsten ore on the edge of Dartmoor in the United Kingdom, which was exploited during World War I and World War II as the Hemerdon Mine. Following increases in tungsten prices, this mine was reactivated in 2014, but ceased activities in 2018. Within the EU, the Austrian Felbertal scheelite deposit is one of the few producing tungsten mines. Portugal is one of Europe’s main tungsten producers, with 121 kt of contained tungsten in mineral concentrates from 1910 to 2020, accounting for roughly 3.3% of the global production. Tungsten is considered to be a conflict mineral due to history of unethical mining practices observed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.