Mapping the global flow of tungsten to identify key material efficiency and supply security opportunities

D. Leal, J. M. Allwood, E. Petavratzi, T. J. Brown, G. Gunn

Tungsten is an economically important metal with diverse applications ranging from wear resistant cutting tools to its use in specialized steels and alloys. Concerns about its supply security have been raised by various studies in literature, mostly due to trade disputes arising from supply concentration and exports restrictions in China and its lack of viable substitutes. Although tungsten material flows have been analysed for specific regions, a global mass flow analysis of tungsten is still missing in literature and its global supply chain remains opaque for industry outsiders. The objective of this paper is to create a map of global tungsten flows to highlight and discuss key material efficiency (i.e., using less of a material to make a product or supply a service, or reducing the material entering production but ending up in waste) and supply security opportunities along tungsten’s supply chain that could be incorporated into the planning and prioritization of future supply security strategies. The results indicate the existence of various intervention alternatives that could help to broaden the supply base and improve the overall material efficiency of the system. In particular, future policy and research and development (R&D) efforts to improve tungsten’s material efficiency should focus on minimizing tungsten losses as fine particles during beneficiation and extraction (current global losses estimated at 10–40%), as well as on evaluating alternatives to improve recycling collection systems and technologies, which could lead to 17–45% more tungsten discards being recycled into new products.