Tungsten, also known as wolfram, is a chemical element with symbol W and atomic number 74. The word tungsten comes from the Swedish language tung sten directly translatable to heavy stone,[1] though the name is volfram in Swedish to distinguish it from Scheelite, which in Swedish is alternatively named tungsten.

A hard, rare metal under standard conditions when uncombined, tungsten is found naturally on Earth only in chemical compounds. It was identified as a new element in 1781, and first isolated as a metal in 1783. Its important ores include wolframite and scheelite. The free element is remarkable for its robustness, especially the fact that it has the highest melting point of all the elements. Also remarkable is its high density of 19.3 times that of water, comparable to that of uranium and gold, and much higher (about 1.7 times) than that of lead.[2] Polycrystalline tungsten is an intrinsically brittle[3][4] and hard material due to its weak grain boundaries, making it difficult to work. However, pure single-crystalline tungsten is more ductile, and can be cut with a hard-steel hacksaw.[5]

Tungsten's many alloys have numerous applications, most notably in incandescent light bulb filaments, X-ray tubes (as both the filament and target), electrodes in TIG welding, superalloys, and radiation shielding. About half is used in the form of tungsten carbide, a durable carbon alloy. Tungsten's hardness and high density give it military applications in penetrating projectiles. Tungsten compounds are also often used as industrial catalysts.

Tungsten is the only metal from the third transition series that is known to occur in biomolecules, where it is used in a few species of bacteria and archaea. It is the heaviest element known to be used by any living organism. Tungsten interferes with molybdenum and copper metabolism and is somewhat toxic to animal life.[6][7]


Physical propertiesEdit

In its raw form, tungsten is a hard steel-grey metal that is often brittle and hard to work. If made very pure, tungsten retains its hardness (which exceeds that of many steels), and becomes malleable enough that it can be worked easily.[5] It is worked by forging, drawing, or extruding. Tungsten objects are also commonly formed by sintering.

Of all metals in pure form, tungsten has the highest melting point (3422 °C, 6192 °F), lowest vapor pressure (at temperatures above 1650 °C, 3000 °F) and the highest tensile strength.[8] Although carbon remains solid at higher temperatures than tungsten, carbon sublimes, rather than melts, so tungsten is considered to have a higher melting point. Tungsten has the lowest coefficient of thermal expansion of any pure metal. The low thermal expansion and high melting point and tensile strength of tungsten originate from strong covalent bonds formed between tungsten atoms by the 5d electrons.[9] Alloying small quantities of tungsten with steel greatly increases its toughness.[2]

Tungsten exists in two major crystalline forms: α and β. The former has a body-centered cubic structure and is the more stable form. The structure of the β phase is called A15 cubic; it is metastable, but can coexist with the α phase at ambient conditions owing to non-equilibrium synthesis or stabilization by impurities. Contrary to the α phase which crystallizes in isometric grains, the β form exhibits a columnar habit. The α phase has one third of the electrical resistivity[10] and a much lower superconducting transition temperature TC relative to the β phase: ca. 0.015 K vs. 1–4 K; mixing the two phases allows obtaining intermediate TC values.[11][12] The TC value can also be raised by alloying tungsten with another metal (e.g. 7.9 K for W-Template:Technetium).[13] Such tungsten alloys are sometimes used in low-temperature superconducting circuits.[14][15][16]


Main article: Isotopes of tungsten

Naturally occurring tungsten consists of five isotopes whose half-lives are so long that they can be considered stable. Theoretically, all five can decay into isotopes of element 72 (hafnium) by alpha emission, but only 180W has been observed[17] to do so with a half-life of (1.8 ± 0.2)×1018 years; on average, this yields about two alpha decays of 180W in one gram of natural tungsten per year.[18] The other naturally occurring isotopes have not been observed to decay, constraining their half-lives to be:

182W, t1⁄2 > 1.7×1020 years
183W, t1⁄2 > 8×1019 years
184W, t1⁄2 > 1.8×1020 years
186W, t1⁄2 > 4.1×1018 years

Another 30 artificial radioisotopes of tungsten have been characterized, the most stable of which are 181W with a half-life of 121.2 days, 185W with a half-life of 75.1 days, 188W with a half-life of 69.4 days, 178W with a half-life of 21.6 days, and 187W with a half-life of 23.72 h.[18] All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lives of less than 3 hours, and most of these have half-lives below 8 minutes.[18] Tungsten also has 4 meta states, the most stable being 179mW (t1⁄2 6.4 minutes).

Chemical propertiesEdit

Main article: Tungsten compounds

Elemental tungsten resists attack by oxygen, acids, and alkalis.[19]

The most common formal oxidation state of tungsten is +6, but it exhibits all oxidation states from −2 to +6.[19][20] Tungsten typically combines with oxygen to form the yellow tungstic oxide, WO3, which dissolves in aqueous alkaline solutions to form tungstate ions, WO2−

Tungsten carbides (W2C and WC) are produced by heating powdered tungsten with carbon. W2C is resistant to chemical attack, although it reacts strongly with chlorine to form tungsten hexachloride (WCl6).[2]

In aqueous solution, tungstate gives the heteropoly acids and polyoxometalate anions under neutral and acidic conditions. As tungstate is progressively treated with acid, it first yields the soluble, metastable "paratungstate A" anion, W
, which over time converts to the less soluble "paratungstate B" anion, H
.[21] Further acidification produces the very soluble metatungstate anion, H
, after which equilibrium is reached. The metatungstate ion exists as a symmetric cluster of twelve tungsten-oxygen octahedra known as the Keggin anion. Many other polyoxometalate anions exist as metastable species. The inclusion of a different atom such as phosphorus in place of the two central hydrogens in metatungstate produces a wide variety of heteropoly acids, such as phosphotungstic acid H3PW12O40.

Tungsten trioxide can form intercalation compounds with alkali metals. These are known as bronzes; an example is sodium tungsten bronze.


In 1781, Carl Wilhelm Scheele discovered that a new acid, tungstic acid, could be made from scheelite (at the time named tungsten). Scheele and Torbern Bergman suggested that it might be possible to obtain a new metal by reducing this acid.[22] In 1783, José and Fausto Elhuyar found an acid made from wolframite that was identical to tungstic acid. Later that year, at the Royal Basque Society in the town of Bergara, Spain, the brothers succeeded in isolating tungsten by reduction of this acid with charcoal, and they are credited with the discovery of the element.[23][24]

In World War II, tungsten played a significant role in background political dealings. Portugal, as the main European source of the element, was put under pressure from both sides, because of its deposits of wolframite ore at Panasqueira. Tungsten's resistance to high temperatures and its strengthening of alloys made it an important raw material for the arms industry.[25][26]


The name "tungsten" (from the Swedish tung sten, "heavy stone") is used in English, French, and many other languages as the name of the element, but not in the Nordic countries. Tungsten was the old Swedish name for the mineral scheelite. The other name "wolfram" (or "volfram"), is used in most European (especially Germanic and Slavic) languages, and is derived from the mineral wolframite, which is the origin of its chemical symbol, W.[5] The name "wolframite" is derived from German "wolf rahm" ("wolf soot" or "wolf cream"), the name given to tungsten by Johan Gottschalk Wallerius in 1747. This, in turn, derives from "Lupi spuma", the name Georg Agricola used for the element in 1546, which translates into English as "wolf's froth", and is a reference to the large amounts of tin consumed by the mineral during its extraction.[27]


Tungsten is found in the minerals wolframite (FeTemplate:Manganese tungstate, (Fe,Mn)WO4), scheelite (calcium tungstate, (CaWO4), ferberite (FeWO4), and hübnerite (MnWO4).

In 2010, world production of tungsten was about 61,000 tonnes. The main producers were as follows (data in tonnes): [28]

Country Production
Austria 900 1,000 10,000
Bolivia 1,000 1,100 53,000
Canada 2,000 300 120,000
China 51,000 52,000 1,900,000
Portugal 900 950 4,200
Russia 2,500 2,500 250,000
Other countries 3,000 3,300 400,000

There is additional production in the U.S., but the amount is proprietary company information. U.S. reserves are 140,000 tonnes.[28]

Tungsten is considered to be a conflict mineral due to the unethical mining practices observed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[29][30]
There is a large deposit of tungsten ore on the edge of Dartmoor in the United Kingdom, which was exploited during World War I and World War II as the Hemerdon Mine. With recent increases in tungsten prices, this mine has been reactivated. [31]


File:Wolframite from Portugal.jpg
File:Tungsten OR wolfram (mined)2.PNG

About 61,300 tonnes of tungsten concentrates were produced in the year 2009.[32] Tungsten is extracted from its ores in several stages. The ore is eventually converted to tungsten(VI) oxide (WO3), which is heated with hydrogen or carbon to produce powdered tungsten.[22] Because of tungsten's high melting point, it is not commercially feasible to cast tungsten ingots. Instead, powdered tungsten is mixed with small amounts of powdered nickel or other metals, and sintered. During the sintering process, the nickel diffuses into the tungsten, producing an alloy.

Tungsten can also be extracted by hydrogen reduction of WF6:

WF6 + 3 H2 → W + 6 HF

or pyrolytic decomposition:[33]

WF6 → W + 3 F2 (ΔHr = +)

Tungsten is not traded as a futures contract and cannot be tracked on exchanges like the London Metal Exchange. The prices are usually quoted for tungsten concentrate or WO3. If converted to the metal equivalent, they were about US$19 per kilogram in 2009.[32]


File:Tungsten filament in halogen lamp.JPG
File:Tungsten ring-cropbright.jpg

Approximately half of the tungsten is consumed for the production of hard materials – namely tungsten carbide – with the remaining major use being in alloys and steels. Less than 10% is used in other chemical compounds.[34]

Hard materialsEdit

Tungsten is mainly used in the production of hard materials based on tungsten carbide, one of the hardest carbides, with a melting point of 2770 °C. WC is an efficient electrical conductor, but W2C is less so. WC is used to make wear-resistant abrasives, and "carbide" cutting tools such as knives, drills, circular saws, milling and turning tools used by the metalworking, woodworking, mining, petroleum and construction industries.[2] Carbide tooling is actually a ceramic/metal composite, where metallic cobalt acts as a binding (matrix) material to hold the WC particles in place. This type of industrial use accounts for about 60% of current tungsten consumption.[35]

The jewelry industry makes rings of sintered tungsten carbide, tungsten carbide/metal composites, and also metallic tungsten.[36] WC/metal composite rings use nickel as the metal matrix in place of cobalt because it takes a higher luster when polished. Sometimes manufacturers or retailers refer to tungsten carbide as a metal, but it is a ceramic.[37] Because of tungsten carbide's hardness, rings made of this material are extremely abrasion resistant, and will hold a burnished finish longer than rings made of metallic tungsten. Tungsten carbide rings are brittle, however, and may crack under a sharp blow.[38]


Further information: Tantalum-tungsten alloys

The hardness and density of tungsten are applied in obtaining heavy metal alloys. A good example is high speed steel, which can contain as much as 18% tungsten.[39] Tungsten's high melting point makes tungsten a good material for applications like rocket nozzles, for example in the UGM-27 Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missile.[40] Tungsten alloys are used in a wide range of different applications, including the aerospace and automotive industries and radiation shielding.[41] Superalloys containing tungsten, such as Hastelloy and Stellite, are used in turbine blades and wear-resistant parts and coatings.


Tungsten, usually alloyed with Ni and Fe or Template:Cobalt to form heavy alloys, is used in kinetic energy penetrators as an alternative to depleted uranium, in applications where uranium's radioactivity is problematic even in depleted form, or where uranium's additional pyrophoric properties are not required (for example, in ordinary small arms bullets designed to penetrate body armor). Similarly, tungsten alloys have also been used in cannon shells, grenades and missiles, to create supersonic shrapnel. Tungsten has also been used in Dense Inert Metal Explosives, which use it as dense powder to reduce collateral damage while increasing the lethality of explosives within a small radius.[42]

Chemical applicationsEdit

Tungsten(IV) sulfide is a high temperature lubricant and is a component of catalysts for hydrodesulfurization.[43] MoS2 is more commonly used for such applications.[44]

Tungsten oxides are used in ceramic glazes and Ca/Template:Magnesium tungstates are used widely in fluorescent lighting. Crystal tungstates are used as scintillation detectors in nuclear physics and nuclear medicine. Other salts that contain tungsten are used in the chemical and tanning industries.[8]

Tungsten oxide (WO3) is incorporated into selective catalytic reduction (SCR) catalysts found in coal-fired power plants. These catalysts convert nitrogen oxides (NOx) to nitrogen (N2) and water (H2O) using ammonia (NH3). The tungsten oxide helps with the physical strength of the catalyst and extends catalyst life.[45]

Niche usesEdit

Applications requiring its high density include weights, counterweights, ballast keels for yachts, tail ballast for commercial aircraft, and as ballast in race cars for NASCAR and Formula One; depleted uranium is also used for these purposes, due to similarly high density. 75-kg blocks of tungsten were used as "cruise balance mass devices" on the entry vehicle portion of the 2012 Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft. It is an ideal material to use as a dolly for riveting, where the mass necessary for good results can be achieved in a compact bar. High-density alloys of tungsten with nickel, copper or iron are used in high-quality darts[46] (to allow for a smaller diameter and thus tighter groupings) or for fishing lures (tungsten beads allow the fly to sink rapidly). Some types of strings for musical instruments are wound with tungsten wires.Script error

Sodium tungstate is used in Folin-Ciocalteu's reagent, a mixture of different chemicals used in the "Lowry Assay" for protein content analysis.

Gold substitutionEdit

Its density, similar to that of gold, allows tungsten to be used in jewelry as an alternative to gold or platinum.[1][2] Metallic tungsten is hypoallergenic, and is harder than gold alloys (though not as hard as tungsten carbide), making it useful for rings that will resist scratching, especially in designs with a brushed finish.

Because the density is so similar to that of gold (tungsten is only 0.36% less dense), tungsten can also be used in counterfeiting of gold bars, such as by plating a tungsten bar with gold,[3][4][5] which has been observed since the 1980s,[6] or taking an existing gold bar, drilling holes, and replacing the removed gold with tungsten rods.[7] The densities are not exactly the same, and other properties of gold and tungsten differ, but gold-plated tungsten will pass superficial tests.[3]

Gold-plated tungsten is available commercially from China (the main source of tungsten), both in jewelry and as bars.[8]


Because it retains its strength at high temperatures and has a high melting point, elemental tungsten is used in many high-temperature applications,[9] such as light bulb, cathode-ray tube, and vacuum tube filaments, heating elements, and rocket engine nozzles.[1] Its high melting point also makes tungsten suitable for aerospace and high-temperature uses such as electrical, heating, and welding applications, notably in the gas tungsten arc welding process (also called tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding).

File:TIG torch breakdown.JPG

Because of its conductive properties and relative chemical inertness, tungsten is also used in electrodes, and in the emitter tips in electron-beam instruments that use field emission guns, such as electron microscopes. In electronics, tungsten is used as an interconnect material in integrated circuits, between the silicon dioxide dielectric material and the transistors. It is used in metallic films, which replace the wiring used in conventional electronics with a coat of tungsten (or molybdenum) on silicon.[10]

The electronic structure of tungsten makes it one of the main sources for X-ray targets,[11][12] and also for shielding from high-energy radiations (such as in the radiopharmaceutical industry for shielding radioactive samples of FDG). It is also used in gamma imaging as a material from which coded apertures are made, due to its excellent shielding properties. Tungsten powder is used as a filler material in plastic composites, which are used as a nontoxic substitute for lead in bullets, shot, and radiation shields. Since this element's thermal expansion is similar to borosilicate glass, it is used for making glass-to-metal seals.[13]

Biological roleEdit

Tungsten, at atomic number 74, is the heaviest element known to be biologically functional, with the next heaviest being iodine (Z = 53). It is used by some bacteria, but not in eukaryotes. For example, enzymes called oxidoreductases use tungsten similarly to molybdenum by using it in a tungsten-pterin complex with molybdopterin (molybdopterin, despite its name, does not contain molybdenum, but may complex with either molybdenum or tungsten in use by living organisms). Tungsten-using enzymes typically reduce carboxylic acids to aldehydes.[14] The tungsten oxidoreductases may also catalyse oxidations. The first tungsten-requiring enzyme to be discovered also requires selenium, and in this case the tungsten-selenium pair may function analogously to the molybdenum-sulfur pairing of some molybdenum cofactor-requiring enzymes.[15] One of the enzymes in the oxidoreductase family which sometimes employ tungsten (bacterial formate dehydrogenase H) is known to use a selenium-molybdenum version of molybdopterin.[16] Acetylene hydratase is an unusual metalloenzyme in that it catalyzes a hydration reaction. Two reaction mechanisms have been proposed, in one of which there is a direct interaction between the tungsten atom and the C≡C triple bond.[17] Although a tungsten-containing xanthine dehydrogenase from bacteria has been found to contain tungsten-molydopterin and also non-protein bound selenium, a tungsten-selenium molybdopterin complex has not been definitively described.[18]

In soil, tungsten metal oxidizes to the tungstate anion. It can be selectively or non-selectively imported by some prokaryotic organisms and may substitute for molybdate in certain enzymes. Its effect on the action of these enzymes is in some cases inhibitory and in others positive.[19] The soil's chemistry determines how the tungsten polymerizes; alkaline soils cause monomeric tungstates; acidic soils cause polymeric tungstates.[20]

Sodium tungstate and lead have been studied for their effect on earthworms. Lead was found to be lethal at low levels and sodium tungstate was much less toxic, but the tungstate completely inhibited their reproductive ability.[21]

Tungsten has been studied as a biological copper metabolic antagonist, in a role similar to the action of molybdenum. It has been found that tetrathiotungstates may be used as biological copper chelation chemicals, similar to the tetrathiomolybdates.[22]


Because tungsten is rare and its compounds are generally inert, the effects of tungsten on the environment are limited.[23] The median lethal dose LD50 depends strongly on the animal and the method of administration and varies between 59 mg/kg (intravenous, rabbits)[24][25] and 5000 mg/kg (tungsten metal powder, intraperitoneal, rats).[26][27]

Patent claimEdit

Tungsten is unique amongst the elements in that it has been the subject of patent proceedings. In 1928, a US court rejected General Electric's attempt to patent it, overturning Template:US patent granted in 1913 to William D. Coolidge.[28][29]

See alsoEdit


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  4. "Zinc Dimes, Tungsten Gold & Lost Respect", Jim Willie, Nov 18 2009
  5. Largest Private Refinery Discovers Gold-Plated Tungsten Bar, March 2, 2010, Patrick A. Heller, reporting story by ProSieben
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  28. General Electric Co. v. De Forest Radio Co., 28 F.2d 641, 643 (3rd Cir. 1928)
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