You wouldn’t necessarily expect to find Tungsten and Fluorspar mentioned in the same sentence as “Rare Earth Metals.” With its traditional applications in ballistics, the former is historically known as a “war metal,” while the latter has been an important component for chemical applications. And in spite of the fact that Tungsten makes the top tier of the American Resources Risk Pyramid in our Critical Metals Report, we don’t immediately think of supply concerns akin to the recent Rare Earths shortage.
However, as Analyst Ken Chernin explains in an interview with The Critical Metals Report, both Tungsten and Fluorspar display characteristics and supply scenarios that evoke parallels with Rare Earths Elements, with China once again playing a key role here.
Tungsten, when I first looked at it, read like a rare earth elements (REEs) story in that 86% of global supply came from China. In REEs, it’s around 95%. The Chinese government seems determined to restrict exports because it has made a significant investment in downstream, higher-margin industries using tungsten. Therefore, it is determined to keep what resources it has for itself.
As for Fluorspar, Chernin expects China, which has the purest Fluorspar and is the world’s largest Fluorspar producer according to USGS estimates, to become a net importer of the mineral in the near future.
Coupled with recent reports that Graphite is gaining in strategic importance, developments with Tungsten and Fluorspar show that resource policy cannot occur in a vacuum and that the strategic implications of mineral resource supply issues stretch far beyond the now often-discussed Rare Earths story.