That there is plenty of tungsten in the ground is not in doubt but some of the biggest deposits are in the areas where access is difficult, or have a low ore grade, making the long-term view of tungsten prices the governing factor in determining their economic viability.
Not only have the sources of supply altered but so have the tungsten compounds traded, as fluctuating price differentials between concentrate and upgraded products and governmental restrictions played their part in the market. Intermediate products include tungstates, tungsten oxides and hydroxides, W and WC powders, and ferrotungsten.
Supply and Demand
This graph compares the ITIA estimates for the production of concentrate over the last 10 years with demand, calculated by the addition of imports of concentrates (ex world) as well as imports of intermediate products from China and Russia. As supply and demand have largely been in balance over this period, production has been supplemented by releases from stocks. Actual consumption, including recycled material (see below), is much more difficult to assess.
Scrap recycling is an important factor in the world's tungsten supply, and the tungsten processing industry is able to treat almost every kind of tungsten-containing scrap and waste to recover tungsten, and, if present, other valuable constituents. Tungsten scrap, due to its high tungsten content in comparison to ore, is a valuable raw material. The recycling of scrap is very high in several countries but is probably in the range of 35-40% minimum as a global average depending on economic conditions.
An annual statistics Report covering tungsten production, processing, consumption and enduses is prepared for members by the Secretary-General and may be purchased by non-members (the price currently is US$1,800). Click to view the list of contents.