Infographic: The History of Tungsten, the Strongest Natural Metal on Earth
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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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Gold

How Gold Royalties Outperform Gold and Mining Stocks

Gold royalty companies shield investors from inflation’s rising expenses, resulting in stronger returns than gold and gold mining companies.

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gold royalty company returns compared to gold and gold mining companies
The following content is sponsored by Gold Royalty
Infographic on gold royalty company returns

How Gold Royalties Outperform Gold and Mining Stocks

Gold and gold mining companies have long provided a diverse option for investors looking for gold-backed returns, however royalty companies have quietly been outperforming both.

While inflation’s recent surge has dampened profits for gold mining companies, royalty companies have remained immune thanks to their unique structure, offering stronger returns in both the short and long term.

After Part One of this series sponsored by Gold Royalty explained exactly how gold royalties avoid rising expenses caused by inflation, Part Two showcases the resulting stronger returns royalty companies can offer.

Comparing Returns

Since the pandemic lows in mid-March of 2020, gold royalty companies have greatly outperformed both gold and gold mining companies, shining especially bright in the past year’s highly inflationary environment.

While gold is up by 9% since the lows, gold mining companies are down by almost 3% over the same time period. On the other hand, gold royalty companies have offered an impressive 33% return for investors.

In the graphic above, you can see how gold royalty and gold mining company returns were closely matched during 2020, but when inflation rose in 2021, royalty companies held strong while mining company returns fell downwards.

 Returns since the pandemic lows
(Mid-March 2020)
Returns of the past four months
(July 8-November 8, 2022)
Gold Royalty Companies33.8%1.7%
Gold9.1%-1.7%
Gold Mining Companies-3.0%-8.6%

Even over the last four months as gold’s price fell by 1.7%, royalty companies managed to squeeze out a positive 1.7% return while gold mining companies dropped by 8.6%.

Gold Royalty Dividends Compared to Gold Mining Companies

Along with more resilient returns, gold royalty companies also offer significantly more stability than gold mining companies when it comes to dividend payouts.

Gold mining companies have highly volatile dividend payouts that are significantly adjusted depending on gold’s price. While this has provided high dividend payouts when gold’s price increases, it also results in huge dividend cuts when gold’s price falls as seen in the chart below.

chart of gold royalty company dividends vs gold mining company dividends

Rather than following gold’s price, royalty companies seek to provide growing stability with their dividend payouts, adjusting them so that shareholders are consistently rewarded.

Over the last 10 years, dividend-paying royalty companies have steadily increased their payouts, offering stability even when gold prices fall.

Why Gold Royalty Companies Outperform During Inflation

Gold has provided investors with the stability of a hard monetary asset for centuries, with mining companies offering a riskier high volatility bet on gold-backed cash flows. However, when gold prices fall or inflation increases operational costs, gold mining companies fall significantly more than the precious metal.

Gold royalty companies manage to avoid inflation’s bite or falling gold prices’ crunch on profit margins as they have no exposure to rising operational expenses like wages and energy fuels while also having a much smaller headcount and lower G&A expenses as a result.

Along with avoiding rising expenses, gold royalty companies still retain exposure to mine expansions and exploration, offering just as much upside as mining companies when projects grow.

Gold Royalty offers inflation-resistant gold exposure with a portfolio of royalties on top-tier mines across the Americas. Click here to find out more about Gold Royalty.

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Mining

The Next Generation of Uranium Deposits

Canada’s Athabasca Basin has the highest-grade uranium deposits in the world.

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The following content is sponsored by Skyharbour Resources

The Next Generation of Uranium Deposits

Government policies are shifting in favor of nuclear energy as countries try to reduce carbon emissions.

Unlike coal, oil, or gas, nuclear power plants produce little to no CO₂. As a result, nuclear is the second largest source of low-carbon electricity in the world, behind hydropower.

In this infographic from Skyharbour Resources, we look closely at the next generation of uranium deposits necessary to power up the nuclear sector.

The Uranium Supply Squeeze

Roughly 440 nuclear reactors operating worldwide generate around 10% of the world’s electricity annually.

In the United States, for example, nuclear energy provides 52% of carbon-free electricity, and in the European Union, it accounts for 43%. In three European countries, the share of nuclear energy in the electricity mix exceeds 50%.

RankCountryNuclear Share of Electricity Mix
1France 🇫🇷70.6%
2Slovakia 🇸🇰53.1%
3Ukraine 🇺🇦51.2%
4Hungary 🇭🇺48.0%
5Bulgaria 🇧🇬40.8%
6Belgium 🇧🇪39.1%
7Slovenia 🇸🇮37.8%
8Czechia 🇨🇿37.3%
9Armenia 🇦🇲34.5%
10Finland 🇫🇮33.9%
11Switzerland 🇨🇭32.9%
12Sweden 🇸🇪29.8%
13South Korea 🇰🇷29.6%
14Spain 🇪🇸22.2%
15Russia 🇷🇺20.6%
16Romania 🇷🇴19.9%
17United States 🇺🇸19.7%
18Canada 🇨🇦14.6%
19United Kingdom 🇬🇧14.5%
20Germany 🇩🇪11.3%

All of the world’s nuclear reactors are powered by uranium. They require approximately 67,500 tonnes of uranium annually. However, the uranium market has been in a growing deficit since 2015, with the widening demand-supply gap being filled by civil stockpiles and secondary sources.

The World Nuclear Association expects a 27% increase in demand between 2021 and 2030.

In addition, the recent energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led investors to the uranium market, betting on nuclear energy to shift away from fossil fuels. In this scenario, new uranium mines are expected to come online in the next decade to meet the demand.

The World’s Richest Uranium Region

Canada is the world’s second-largest producer of uranium, accounting for roughly 13% of total global output.

The country’s Athabasca Basin has the highest-grade uranium deposits in the world, with grades that are 10 to 100 times greater than the global average. The Northern area covers almost a quarter of Saskatchewan and a small portion of Alberta.

The region— sometimes described as the “Persian Gulf of uranium” — is home to Cameco’s Cigar Lake, the world’s richest uranium mine.

According to the Fraser Institute, Saskatchewan ranks as the second-best mining jurisdiction in the world. The province appears only behind Western Australia regarding geologic attractiveness, government policy, and attitudes toward exploration investment.

In recent years, many uranium companies have made uranium discoveries in the basin, with Skyharbour Resources among them. The company holds an extensive portfolio of fifteen uranium exploration projects, ten of which are drill-ready, covering 450,000 hectares of mineral claims.

The U.S. Nuclear Future

While the Biden Administration is urging lawmakers to pass a $4.3 billion plan to purchase enriched uranium from domestic producers, the country’s production is still considered small in scale.

For this reason, Athabasca Basin and companies like Skyharbour Resources are expected to play a key role in the U.S.’ nuclear future.

Skyharbour Resources is becoming an industry leader in high-grade Canadian uranium exploration needed for nuclear power and clean energy.

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