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A look at tungsten shows why broad focus is needed for critical mineral strategy

With this week’s WTO ruling on China’s raw materials exports (visit RareMetalBlog for our very own Daniel McGroarty’s take) all eyes are once again on rare earths – and for good reasons, as these critical elements are the poster child of the challenges associated with resource dependency. However, a broader focus is needed, and tungsten is a case in point.

Used for hardening a variety of tools, bullets, and other military applications, tungsten has seen its value shoot up in 2011 with an increase of 35% in market value. And here’s the rub, according to Investment Logs:

Like rare earth elements (REE), China produces most of the world’s tungsten supply. Since China restricted sales of Adenosine Triphosphate (APT), which is the main form tungsten is sold in, the price has doubled. Tungsten is following the same path as REEs, but no one has noticed yet.

While the U.S. import dependency rate of 36 percent for tungsten may be lower than in previous years due to increased scrap consumption, challenges remain:

With China, our main tungsten supplier, continuing to engage in geopolitical power plays with its mineral resources, the tungsten supply outlook stays troublesome, leading the British Geological Survey to rank it as one of the metals most prone to supply disruptions.

According to the USGS, the U.S. is home to significant tungsten deposits, among vast reserves of many other metals and minerals – so why have we not yet overhauled our policies to maximize our domestic resource potential? Securing our strategic and economic future all while creating thousands of jobs should be a key priority for any policy maker.