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The History of Tungsten, the Strongest Natural Metal on Earth

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The History of Tungsten, the Strongest Natural Metal on Earth

The History of Tungsten

With a tensile strength of 1,510 megapascals, we now know tungsten as the strongest naturally occurring metal on Earth.

Today’s infographic is from Almonty Industries, a tungsten producer, and it reveals the history of tungsten.

Interestingly, the infographic shows that despite tungsten’s strength, most of civilization has lived without any practical use of the metal. That’s because tungsten wasn’t officially discovered until the 18th century – though, as you will see, it was a thorn in the side of metallurgists for many centuries before that.

From the Heavens

Like all elements with an atomic number higher than iron, tungsten cannot be created by nuclear fusion in stars like our sun.

Instead, tungsten is thought to be formed from the explosions of massive stars. Each supernova explosion has so much energy, that these newly created elements are jettisoned at incredible speeds of 30,000 km/s, or 10% of the speed of light – and that’s how they get dispersed throughout the universe.

Supernova explosions don’t happen often – as a result, in every 1,000,000 grams of the Earth’s crust, there are only 1.25 grams of tungsten.

An Unusual History

In the periodic table, tungsten is listed under the letter “W”. That’s because two names for the same metal actually arose simultaneously.

“Wolfram”

WOLFRAM: derived from the German words WOLF (English: wolf) and the Middle High German word RAM (English: dirt).

In the Middle Ages, tin miners in Germany complained about a mineral (wolframite) that accompanied tin ore and reduced tin yields when smelting.

With a longish, hair-like appearance, wolframite was thought to be a “wolf” that ate up the tin. Wolframite had plagued metallurgists for many centuries, until tungsten was discovered and proper methods were developed to deal with the heavy metal.

“Tungsten”

TUNGSTEN: derived from the Swedish words TUNG (English: heavy) and STEN (English: stone) due to its density

Scheelite, the other important tungsten ore, was discovered in an iron mine in Sweden in 1750.

It garnered interest for its incredible density – which is why it was named “heavy stone”.

The Discovery

The metal was discovered by Spanish nobleman Juan José D´Elhuyar, who eventually synthesized tungsten from both wolframite and scheelite – showing they were both minerals from the same new element.

History of Tungsten Uses

Discoveries in tungsten use can be loosely linked to four fields: chemicals, steel and super alloys, filaments, and carbides.

1847: Tungsten salts are used to make colored cotton and to make clothes used for theatrical and other purposes fireproof.

1855: The Bessemer process is invented, allowing for the mass production of steel. At the same time, the first tungsten steels are being made in Austria.

1895: Thomas Edison investigated materials’ ability to fluoresce when exposed to X-rays, and found that calcium tungstate was the most effective substance.

1900: High Speed Steel, a special mix of steel and tungsten, is exhibited at the World Exhibition in Paris. It maintains its hardness at high temperatures, perfect for use in tools and machining.

1903: Filaments in lamps and lightbulbs were the first use of tungsten that made use of its extremely high melting point and its electrical conductivity. The only problem? Early attempts found tungsten to be too brittle for widespread use.

1909: William Coolidge and his team at General Electric the U.S. are successful in discovering a process that creates ductile tungsten filaments through suitable heat treatment and mechanical working.

1911: The Coolidge Process is commercialized, and in a short time tungsten light bulbs spread all over the world equipped with ductile tungsten wires.

1913: A shortage in industrial diamonds in Germany during WWII leads researchers to look for an alternative to diamond dies, which are used to draw wire.

1914: “It was the belief of some Allied military experts that in six months Germany would be exhausted of ammunition. The Allies soon discovered that Germany was increasing her manufacture of munitions and for a time had exceeded the output of the Allies. The change was in part due to her use of tungsten high-speed steel and tungsten cutting tools. To the bitter amazement of the British, the tungsten so used, it was later discovered, came largely from their Cornish Mines in Cornwall.” – From K.C. Li’s 1947 book “TUNGSTEN”

1923: A German electrical bulb company submits a patent for tungsten carbide, or hardmetal. It’s made by “cementing” very hard tungsten monocarbide (WC) grains in a binder matrix of tough cobalt metal by liquid phase sintering.

The result changed the history of tungsten: a material which combines high strength, toughness and high hardness. In fact, tungsten carbide is so hard, the only natural material that can scratch it is a diamond. (Carbide is the most important use for tungsten today.)

1930s: New applications arose for tungsten compounds in the oil industry for the hydrotreating of crude oils.

1940: The development of iron, nickel, and cobalt-based superalloys begin, to fill the need for a material that can withstand the incredible temperatures of jet engines.

1942: During World War II, the Germans were the first to use tungsten carbide core in high velocity armor piercing projectiles. British tanks virtually “melted” when hit by these tungsten carbide projectiles.

1945: Annual sales of incandescent lamps are 795 million per year in the U.S.

1950s: By this time, tungsten is being added into superalloys to improve their performance.

1960s: New catalysts were born containing tungsten compounds to treat exhaust gases in the oil industry.

1964: Improvements in efficiency and production of incandescent lamps reduce the cost of providing a given quantity of light by a factor of thirty, compared with the cost at introduction of Edison’s lighting system.

2000: At this point, about 20 billion meters of lamp wire are drawn each year, a length which corresponds to about 50 times the earth-moon distance. Lighting consumes 4% and 5% of the total tungsten production.

Tungsten Today

Today, tungsten carbide is extremely widespread, and its applications include metal cutting, machining of wood, plastics, composites, and soft ceramics, chipless forming (hot and cold), mining, construction, rock drilling, structural parts, wear parts and military components.

Tungsten steel alloys are also used the in the production of rocket engine nozzles, which must have good heat resistant properties. Super-alloys containing tungsten are used in turbine blades and wear-resistant parts and coatings.

However, at the same time, the reign of the incandescent lightbulb has come to an end after 132 years, as they start to get phased out in the U.S. and Canada.

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Mining

How to Avoid Common Mistakes With Mining Stocks (Part 2: Business Plan)

Investing in mining stocks may seem like luck of the draw, but the sector can be de-risked by asking the right questions. Here we look at the business plan.

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The Business Plan

Everyone loves to talk about creating the next great mining business, but are they willing to put that talk into action?

There is real money and real management behind every company—but surprisingly, not every company has a concrete strategy to build a business and create value for shareholders.

Business Plan, or Lack Thereof?

Today’s infographic comes to us from Eclipse Gold Mining and it shows you how to avoid common mistakes when evaluating and investing in mining exploration stocks.

Specifically, we look at five ways that potential investors can detect the presence and viability of a mining company’s business plan.

The Mining Business Plan

Visit Part 1 of “Common Mistakes With Mining Stocks” on Team by clicking here

So, what should investors be looking for, when it comes to examining the business plan of a mining exploration company?

#1: Clear Vision vs. All Hope & Dreams

A company should articulate a clear vision rather just simply following the trends and hoping for the best. A long term vision for a business plan is critical as it will be guiding and reminding stakeholders of the company’s purpose through the thick and thin.

Signs of a Clear Vision:

  • The company is actively reaching out to investors
  • Projects can be profitable at today’s commodity prices
  • Provide detailed timelines of work
  • Funds committed to work

A clear vision in business will give the company a direction to aim for, allowing everyone to work quickly towards objectives.

#2: Sense of Urgency vs. Wait & See

Time is money, especially in mining. Companies need to build value fast to finance at higher share prices so that early shareholders do not get diluted. A company needs to make concrete decisions that drive towards value creation.

Signs of a Sense of Urgency:

  • “Time is now” mentality
  • Decisive actions
  • Sense of purpose
  • Solution-oriented thinking

It is expensive to maintain a company, especially one that does not yet produce income. Expenses add up quickly and that is why management needs to make sure they focus their efforts and money on activities that generate value for shareholders.

#3: Laser Focus vs. Spray & Pray

The mineral exploration business is tough and each project requires the undivided attention of managers. Smart companies maintain incredible focus to de-risk their projects while others spread themselves thin with multiple projects.

    Signs of a Laser Focus:

  • Properties with a focused vision towards production
  • Specialized management experience aligned with the project
  • Aligning management skill sets with each phase of a project

In order to assess whether a company has the right focus you have to see whether the company is aligning its human assets with its physical assets and a goal in mind.

This focus will help to clarify the story for investors.

#4: Tell the Story vs. Hiding Behind the Science

Communication and business acumen are the key to take a project to market. Mining requires massive amounts of geological knowledge, but that is not the investor’s job to handle. They do not want to want to know the subtleties of geochemistry—they just want to know whether they can make money from those rocks.

Companies that hide behind a wall of geological slides may not have not a real story to tell, and they may be pulling investors into funding their own science projects. At the same time, investors need to make sure that the data being presented matches the story being told.

Signs of Telling the Story:

  • Aware of risks, and communicating those risks
  • Clear understanding of local geology
  • Data from drill results back up the story
  • Consistent message

If a company cannot communicate effectively, how are they going to deal with other, more complicated aspects of a mining business plan?

#5: Endgame in Mind vs. Kicking the Can Down the Road

A journey begins with a single step, but without a business plan and commitment, there will never be an end in sight. Quality companies foresee how their project will come together to generate both liquidity and an exit plan for shareholders. There are several clues investors can use to tell if a company is moving towards its goals.

Signs of the Endgame in Mind:

  • List of accomplished goals
  • Clear vision of future goals and exit strategy
  • Plan for liquidity events for shareholder

The goal in investing is to make money. If shareholders are not making money, what is the point? If a company has no plan, it has no hope.

Making the Right Decisions

Understanding the characters that create value for mining companies is the first step, and the second step is assessing whether there is a viable business plan at hand.

While the risks are high, an effective plan is the first step towards reducing risks and providing shareholders with value.

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Mining

Golden Bulls: Visualizing the Price of Gold from 1915-2020

We break down gold’s three major bull markets over the last century. This includes the current one, in which gold has hit 8-year highs.

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Golden Bulls

Golden Bulls: Visualizing the Price of Gold from 1915-2020

Some people view gold as a relic, a thing of kings, pirates, and myth. It does not produce income, sits in vaults, and adorns the necks and wrists of the wealthy.

But this too is just myth.

In fact, as a financial asset, gold’s value has shone over time with periods of exceptional performance, one of which may be occurring now.

Today’s infographic comes to us from Sprott Physical Gold Trust and outlines the history of the price of gold from 1915 to 2020 and three bull markets or “Golden bulls” since 1969, using monthly data from the London Bullion Market Association.

But first a little history…

The Gold Standard

*All figures are in USD

During the early days of the American Republic, the U.S. used the British gold standard to set the price of its currency. In 1791, it established the price of gold at $19.75 per ounce but also allowed redemption in silver. In 1834, it raised the price of gold to $20.67 per ounce. The price of gold would retain a nominal value through depressions, civil wars, and wars.

However, $20 today is not the same as $20 in the past. The U.S. dollar may have been convertible at a set price, but the amount of goods that it could buy varies year to year based on inflation. So for example from 1934 to 1938, one ounce of gold would cost $34, but $34 today would purchase a small fraction of an ounce of gold.

While the price of gold may appear cheap in the past, adjusted for inflation it is not as low as you would think. Governments would set the price of its currency against an asset to ensure the stability of prices, however if there would be too many claims against the underlying asset, that asset would run out and the currency would become worthless.

This threat would force the hands of governments to change the standards, as currency became more common and gold reserves more scarce.

An Era of Government Intervention

In the wake of the 1929 stock market crash, investors started redeeming U.S. dollars for its equivalent value in gold, removing currency from the economy. In order to stem the flow of funds into gold and the depletion of government gold reserves, in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt limited the private ownership of gold to discourage hoarding and encourage investing. In 1934, Congress passed the Gold Reserve Act which prohibited the private ownership of gold and nominally raised the price of gold to $35 per ounce.

In 1944, the victorious Allied powers negotiated the Bretton Woods Agreement, making the U.S. dollar the official global reserve currency. The United States ensured an ounce of gold would be worth $35 in its currency⁠—at least until the onset of a stagnant economy in the early Seventies led to the official end of any real gold standard.

Golden Bull #1: December 1969 – January 1980

In 1969, the U.S. gold standard had risen to $42 per ounce in nominal terms, however a period of economic volatility would challenge and change U.S. monetary policy.

On August 15, 1971, President Richard Nixon mandated the Federal Reserve to stop honoring the U.S. dollar’s value in gold at a fixed value, abandoning the gold standard. In 1974, President Gerald Ford would once again allow the private ownership of gold bullion. Energy crises, soaring inflation, and high unemployment stagnated the economy.

By January 1980, the price of gold reached $2,234 per ounce in today’s dollars amidst an environment of double-digit inflation. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker fought this inflation with double-digit interest rates which in turn slowed the economy, causing a recession.

The interest-rate-induced recession would herald in a new global economic boom that defined the Eighties and Nineties. The price of gold dropped to $753.96 per ounce by June 1985, as the economy improved.

From December 1969 to January 1980, gold rose from $285 to $2,234 per ounce, an increase of 684% over 122 months, in inflation-adjusted terms.

Golden Bull #2: August 1999 – August 2011

Expanding household incomes and ever declining interest rates under Federal Reserve chairman Greenspan pushed gold further down to a low of $377.44 per ounce by the end of April 2001.

Loose monetary policy and a reduced tax on capital gains spurred speculative investments into the new internet economy through a growing retail brokerage market and the emergence of venture capital. The tech bubble would eventually pop as these companies were unable to build sustainable businesses and investor money dried up.

Over the year of 2000, investors rushed to exit their speculative tech investments resulting in several market crashes. Then in September 2001, 9/11 happened, marking the beginning of a new era. Gold steadily rose during this period.

In 2008, the Global Financial Crisis shook financial markets and left a recession. Policy makers and central bankers embarked on a controversial policy of quantitative easing to support financial markets. The price of one ounce of gold reached new highs by the end of August 2011, as worries on debt levels mounted for the U.S. and other countries.

From August 1999 to August 2011, gold rose from $394 to $2,066 per ounce, an increase of 425% over 145 months, in inflation-adjusted terms.

Golden Bull #3?: November 2015 – May 2020

In the aftermath of the GFC, the Federal Reserve stoked an economic recovery with cheap money, seeing gold track to a low of $1,050 per ounce by December 2015. It was not until the election of a peculiar American president in 2016 that gold would rise again.

Pressure to increase interest rates, an aging debt-fueled economic recovery, a trade war with China, and the recent COVID-19 crisis has once again provoked economic uncertainty and a renewed interest in gold. With interest rates already at historic lows and quantitative easing as standard operating procedure, global economies are entering unprecedented territory.

There is still little insight into the direction of the economy but since November 2015 to May 2020, the price of gold has risen from $1,146 to $1,726 per ounce, 55% over 55 months.

Gold Going Forward

In an era of tech startups, ETFs, and algorithmic trading, many people consider gold to be a shiny paperweight—however, its performance over time against other assets shows it is far from this.

In 1915, an ounce of gold was worth $488.66 per ounce in today’s dollars and as of May 15, 2020, $1,751 per ounce. Gold has proven its value over time as companies, countries, and governments come and go.

“Golden Bulls” are no periods for idle idol worship. Gold will always be gold, in myth and in fact.

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