Learn More About the Metal Alloy Called Tungsten

Glass melting electrodes

It may not have been discovered in Sweden but the word “tungsten” comes from the words for “heavy stone” or “tung sten.” Its chemical symbol “W” comes from is alias, Wolfram. When you look at the history of tungsten manufacturing, you have to start your journey in China. It was used there as far back as 350 years ago, according to Live Science. This is where researchers at the Royal Society of Chemistry have placed its first use in Chinese porcelain products.

Centuries later, Peter Woulfe would find a metal in Sweden. He could tell he had something new but did not look much further at it. This was in 1779. A few years later, in 1781, Wilhelm Scheele took a more thorough examination of the substance. He was able to isolate a white oxide that was acidic but he stopped there.

Fausto and Juan Elhuyar have been credited with the official discovery of tungsten that would lead to modern day tungsten manufacturing. They were in Vergara, Spain at a seminary. They were able to take wolframite and from that, isolate the metal oxide itself. This was in 1783. They were able to get tungsten metal by adding carbon and heat.

Today, most of the metal used in the tungsten manufacturing process is located in China, Bolivia, Great Britain, Russia, Portugal, and South Korea. The vast majority of what is used in tungsten processing is taken from China. That country is home to at least 80% of the world supply. The main sources for the element are ferberite, huebnertie, scheelite, and wolframite. Tungsten oxide is reduced by the addition of carbon or hydrogen to develop the metal that is used now in tungsten manufacturing.

Tungsten is one of the hardest substances on the planet. The only material that has been found to be harder is diamond and diamonds are used to shape some of the hardest tungsten alloys.

There are a lot of uses for tungsten. The most common form, that is used in most tungsten manufacturing is tungsten carbide. It is used to make drill bits and to make harden saw blades. The BBC has reported that it takes about ten minutes to make a drill bit with a cutting system that uses diamonds.

Tungsten disulfide is the next most common form of the metal that is used in tungsten manufacturing. Jefferson Lab has said that it can be used as a dry lubricant for temperatures that can get up to 932 degrees Fahrenheit or 500 degrees Celsius. It is also added to paints, used in the manufacture of television and electron tubes, and seals to connect glass to metal. When the military wants to use “kinetic bombardment,” they use tungsten.

Heat resistance is one of the main attributes that make tungsten metal so popular and so versatile. That makes it ideal for welding applications, electrical furnaces and even equipment that is used in space.

Tungsten is often used in lighting. It is its ability to withstand great temperatures that makes it so useful in lighting. William D. Coolidge found that tungsten was the perfect material to be used as a filament in light bulbs in 1908. While today’s light bulbs are more often made from different materials that are more energy efficient, you can still find tungsten in X-ray filaments and used as the electrical contacts in a variety of products.

In nature, there are bacteria that make use of tungsten to make aldehydes from carboxylic acids.

Some have used tungsten metal for more nefarious purposes. Because it is so close to gold in its weight, bricks of tungsten have sometimes been painted to resemble gold bricks and then sold as such.

Since its official discovery 237 years ago in 1781, tungsten metal and tungsten manufacturing has come a long way. This strong, hard and durable metal can be used for a number of applications and a variety of different products.


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