Tungsten is a wonder of nature, with physical properties that make it absolutely critical in several punishing applications. It’s been known to man for more than 200 years, but only recently has modern technology been able to take full advantage of it. Among pure elements, tungsten has the highest melting point at nearly 6,200 degrees Fahrenheit. It also possesses the lowest rate of thermal expansion and boasts the greatest tensile strength, especially at high temperatures. It is practically made for aerospace, metalworking and lighting applications.
Where to Find Tungsten
Tungsten is a rare metal, and is almost always found chemically bonded to other elements. As such, it takes some work to process it, so recycled tungsten is extremely valuable. Scrap tungsten is preferred in many cases over native tungsten because it can be easily recycled and processed down into its constituents. Otherwise, removing tungsten from raw ore will be necessary, and that’s not an efficient process.
But where can scrap metal experts find the material? In recent years, there has been something of a fever pitch surrounding tungsten, and it’s even being traded as a commodity on some markets, with investors buying up tungsten coins and ingots for their portfolios. This desire for the metal has filtered all the way down to scrappers, who now face some impressive competition in recovering tungsten. Still, as tungsten is a heavy, dense and often brittle metal, it is essential that it is only handled by people who know what they are doing. It’s not dangerous to the touch, as it is inert in most settings, but it’s also not easy to pick up and move.
Some of the places where scrap metal experts can reliably locate sources of tungsten include:
- Metalworking shops – Although tungsten is brittle at room temperature, it becomes quite ductile as it is heated. When it is made ductile, it is an ideal partner for carbon, and when bonded to carbon, the resulting WC compound is known as tungsten carbide. Tungsten carbide is one of the hardest materials man can create, and it is used to coat abrasive and cutting tools. This includes drills, saws and turning tools, which are used to shape other pieces of metal. The metalworking process is extremely punishing, so small fragments of tungsten carbide, along with spent carbide tools, are a standard target for metal recycling teams.
- Mining operations – Anywhere there is a tool that grinds or cuts into rock, there’s a good bet that it’s reinforced with tungsten carbide. It’s no surprise, then, that there is plenty of the material in the mining industry. Mining tools that make contact with rock need to retain their cutting and drilling edges for as long as possible, and tungsten carbide offers an economical way to do this. If money was no object, mining tools would all be tipped with diamond, but because money is an object, and an important one, tungsten carbide is the next best thing.
- Oil and gas facilities – The oil and gas industry has a major need for tungsten carbide, as it is capable of resisting corrosion and attacks by both oxygen and acids. It is also capable of withstanding crushing pressures, making it an ideal choice for a whole range of oil & gas components. This includes valves, plugs, seats, wear sleeves, bearings, bushes, seal rings and weights. Metal recycling experts often maintain professional relationships with oil & gas operations, as they will go through carbide components in a hurry.
- Spent rockets and armaments – Tungsten, owning to its unmatched thermal resistance, is a natural choice for rockets and weaponry. One example is the UGM-27 Polaris missile, which is fired from attack submarines. It serves in the rocket nozzle for the Polaris. It is found in a similar role in several forms of air and spacecraft. When alloyed with nickel, iron and cobalt, tungsten is also used as a penetrating material in missiles and cannon rounds. Of course, recovering tungsten used in this fashion is a bit difficult, but when armaments are decommissioned, there may be a great deal of tungsten left behind.
- Electronics – Tungsten is one of the few materials that can be relied on to help produce illumination when it is heated up to a great degree. This is why it is featured in light bulbs as filaments, as well as cathode tube and vacuum tube filaments. It is also a common material in heating elements. Tungsten is a standard metal to use in electrodes, as it can handle the temperature, and in emitter tips for electron microscopes.
As should be clear, tungsten has many applications, but they are all pretty specialized. It isn’t going to be found in most consumer products, and is really only used in industrial applications. Because of this, metal recovery experts looking for tungsten have to have experience working with industrial clients. And industrial clients usually have a lot of the metal to get rid of at once, typically surrounded by a lot of other metals and waste materials.
For industrial facilities that have tungsten to offload, it’s best to bring in a metal recycling expert that has established processes. Not every metal recycler has the kind of manpower and equipment needed to pick through thousands of pounds of material.
Tungsten is an extraordinary metal that is extraordinarily valuable. It’s not something that can be wasted, so it should be trusted to a metal recovery expert that knows how to handle it.