Recycling of tungsten has become an increasingly important source of tungsten for processors.
Recycling of tungsten has become an increasingly important source of tungsten for processors.

By Liz Nickels

However, because incandescent bulbs by fluorescent and LED bulbs generally require greater volumes of refractory tungsten alloys indirectly in their manufacture, there could be a boost in demand in the alloy sector.

Moreover, greater automotive production, particularly in North America, China and Europe, as well as increasing demand in mining and wear resistant applications is forecast to increase demand for cemented carbide products by 3.6% per year to 2018 and increase its share of overall tungsten demand to around 63%.

According to Tungsten: Market Outlook to 2018, produced by market analysts Roskill, growth in tungsten demand will be led by the Asian market, particularly China, which accounted for 48% of consumption in 2013. China is forecast to further increase its share of global tungsten demand to 52% by 2018, outpacing both European and North American demand growth.

Tungsten recycling

Chinese production accounted for 80% of global mine production in 2013, falling from a peak of 84% in 2010.   China's share of global production is expected to reduce going forward, although it is forecast to remain the dominant producer at 78% of global mine supply in 2018.  

Recycling of tungsten has become an increasingly important source of tungsten for processors such as Plansee Group, H.C. Starck and the newly expanded Kennametal, as the technology and the capacity to recycle tungsten containing products have become more widespread. Europe and the USA are the main centres for tungsten recycling with approximately 45% of tungsten demand met by recycled materials in 2013.  In Asia, Japan sourced around 20-30% of domestic tungsten demand from recycled material in 2013, compared to approximately 15% in China.  The rise in recycling outside China has significantly reduced China's influence on the global market and diminished the effects of its export restrictions.  Secondary tungsten formed 22% of global supply in 2014, and it is forecast to increase to 26% by 2018, driven predominantly by more widespread recycling of cemented carbide scrap in China.

Non-Chinese tungsten mine producers are forecast to become more significant suppliers with a number of large-scale tungsten projects scheduled to begin production by 2018.  Wolf Minerals' Hemerdon project in the UK is under construction, while Ormonde's Barruecopardo project in Spain and Thor Mining's Molyhil project in Australia could also enter production over the forecast period. Roskill forecasts additional production from mines entering production post-2012, including recently opened operations in Australia and Vietnam, could represent 9% of total tungsten supply by 2018.  Mines currently on care and maintanence in Brazil and Peru may also re-enter the supply chain.

Non-conflict materials

The introduction of the Dodd-Frank act in the USA during 2010, along with EU Conflict Minerals Regulation in 2014, has seen a shift in the flow of tungsten materials from central Africa.  Historically, the EU and USA had been significant markets for central African sourced tungsten, with it forming around a quarter of exports in 2009.  Exports to the USA and EU in 2013, however, had fallen to around 1%, with Russia and China becoming the largest markets.

After peaking in 2011 and spiking again in 2013, tungsten prices are forecast to fall throughout 2014 and early 2015.  Improving availability of raw materials from new mine projects is increasing oversupply pressure in the market.  As tungsten demand increases in subsequent years, and with little new additional production expected to come online, the market balance will be pushed closer to equilibrium towards 2018, potentially catalysing an increase tungsten prices.  In the meantime, focus may shift to the cost position and viability of specific mining operations, including in China where lower costs have previously insulated suppliers from lower prices.

A recent report suggested a growth in tungsten production.