Tungsten Powder Production:

Tungsten Powder Production:

Tungsten powder is a critical material used across various industries for its unique properties. The high melting point, density, hardness, and strength of tungsten make it an ideal choice for many demanding applications.

One of the most significant uses of tungsten powder is in the production of tungsten carbide. By mixing tungsten powder with carbon and cobalt, extremely hard tungsten carbide can be formed through sintering. This tungsten carbide is used to make cutting tools, drill bits, wear-resistant parts, and other tools that require hardness and rigidity.

Tungsten powder is also alloyed with other metals like steel, nickel, and cobalt to form heavy tungsten alloys. These alloys have excellent vibration damping capabilities and radiation shielding properties, making them ideal for aerospace, military, automotive, and nuclear applications.

Other tungsten alloys like tungsten heavy alloy and tungsten copper alloy are used for making counterweights, balance weights, and other products requiring high density. Tungsten’s electrical conductivity also makes it suitable for electrical contacts and heating elements.

Overall, the unique physical and chemical characteristics of tungsten powder drive its usage across a diverse array of industries and applications where extreme conditions are involved.

How is Tungsten Powder Made?

The most common method for producing tungsten powder is through hydrogen reduction. This process involves reacting tungsten oxide with hydrogen gas at high temperatures inside specialized equipment like rotary kilns or fluidized bed reactors.

During the reduction process, the tungsten oxide powder is fed into the reactor along with the hydrogen gas. As the temperature reaches 800-1000°C, the hydrogen reduces the tungsten oxide to pure tungsten metal powder. The water vapor produced is removed by the flow of the gases.

Equipment for Hydrogen Reduction

The most common reactors used are:

  • Rotary kilns - cylindrical vessels that rotate to tumble and mix the powder
  • Fluidized bed reactors - powder fluidized by the flow of hydrogen gas

Both allow efficient contact between the gas and solid particles.

Importance of Purification

After reduction, the tungsten powder contains impurities from the ore and process. To obtain high purity powder suitable for applications, additional purification steps are necessary:

  • Acid leaching - dissolving impurities using hydrochloric or nitric acid
  • Steam treatment - heating powder in steam to produce tungstic acid
  • Hydrogen reduction - second reduction to convert tungstic acid back to tungsten

The powder also undergoes washing, drying, and milling to achieve the desired particle size distribution. Careful control of the entire production process is crucial for generating high-quality tungsten powder for industrial uses.

Was tungsten used in ww2?

Yes, Tungsten was widely used and played a critical role in weapons manufacturing and production during World War II. The unique properties of Tungsten made it an ideal material for creating durable tools and machinery that could withstand the extreme conditions of warfare.

tungsten in WWII

Manufacturing of Tungsten Powder

Tungsten powder production begins with the processing of raw tungsten ores such as wolframite and scheelite. These ores undergo gravity concentration and flotation separation to produce tungsten concentrates. The concentrates are then chemically converted into tungsten oxides through roasting and leaching processes.

The most common method for producing tungsten powder is hydrogen reduction of tungsten oxides. In this process, tungsten trioxide or blue oxide powder is reduced by hydrogen gas in high temperature furnaces. The main reactions are:

WO3 + 3H2 → W + 3H2O

WO2.9 + H2 → W + H2O

The hydrogen reduction process allows precise control over powder characteristics like particle size, purity and morphology. It is carried out in batch or continuous processes using equipment like rotary kilns, fluidized bed reactors and pusher furnaces at temperatures ranging from 500°C to 1000°C.

Another key method is the thermal decomposition of ammonium paratungstate (APT). APT is heated in a controlled atmosphere to dissociate into tungsten oxide and ammonia gas. The oxide is then reduced by hydrogen to tungsten powder. This method enables very high purity (>99.9%) powder production.

Other methods like sodium reduction of tungsten oxides and calcium reduction of tungsten carbide are also used on a smaller scale. Each process has its own advantages and limitations in terms of cost, scale and powder quality.

Careful control of process parameters like temperature, pressure, gas flow rate and residence time is crucial to obtain powder with the desired characteristics. The powder undergoes various downstream processes like milling, classification and shaping.

Key Production Parameters

Some key parameters to control during tungsten powder production are:

  • Temperature - affects powder particle size and morphology
  • Reducing atmosphere - hydrogen purity and flow rate impacts reaction kinetics
  • Residence time - sufficient time required for complete reduction
  • Heating and cooling rates - influence powder agglomeration
  • Milling conditions - control final particle size distribution
  • Impurity levels - raw material purity affects final powder purity

By optimizing these parameters, manufacturers can tailor the powder characteristics to meet the requirements of various applications.

Quality Control

Consistent quality control through each stage of manufacturing is vital for production of high-purity tungsten powder with reliable properties. Important quality checks include:

  • Raw material inspection - XRF analysis of tungsten ore/oxide purity
  • Process monitoring - continuous measurement of temperature, pressure and gas flow
  • Final product testing - particle size distribution, morphology, microstructure, purity analysis, etc.
  • Lot sampling - testing random samples from each batch for compliance
  • Documentation - detailed records of process parameters and test results

By implementing robust quality control and assurance practices, manufacturers can guarantee the reliability of their tungsten powder for mission-critical applications.

Tungsten Powder Manufacturing Process

The decomposition of ammonium paratungstate (APT) is an alternative method for producing high purity tungsten powder. APT is first produced by dissolving tungsten oxides in aqueous ammonia. Upon heating, APT decomposes through the following reaction:

(NH4)10(H2W12O42) → 12 WO3 + 10 NH3 + 9 H2O

In this process, solid APT is heated to around 700-800°C in a controlled atmosphere, resulting in tungsten trioxide (WO3) and the evolution of ammonia and water gases. The tungsten trioxide is then further reduced using hydrogen gas at temperatures above 800°C to obtain tungsten powder.

The key advantages of the APT decomposition process are:

  • High purity tungsten powder can be obtained since impurities are removed during the dissolution and crystallization steps.
  • Particle size and morphology can be precisely controlled by adjusting the APT crystal size.
  • Fewer unwanted byproducts compared to direct reduction of tungsten oxides.

However, the multistep APT process requires significant energy and capital investment. Careful process control is needed to optimize yield and quality. Overall, APT decomposition produces tungsten powder suitable for applications requiring high purity and uniform particle sizes.

Controlling Particle Size Distribution

The particle size distribution of the final tungsten powder depends on the crystal size of the APT precursor. Large APT crystals decompose into coarser powders, while small crystals lead to fine powders. Manufacturers can control the APT crystal size by modifying the crystallization parameters like temperature, evaporation rate, and residence time.

Advantages over Direct Reduction

Compared to direct hydrogen reduction of WO3, the APT process has several advantages:

  • Fewer impurities since purification occurs before reduction.
  • Better morphology and flowability.
  • Narrower particle size distribution.
  • Lower reduction temperatures possible.

These benefits allow the production of high performance tungsten powder despite the more complex APT process.

Metallurgy of Tungsten

Tungsten has unique metallurgical properties that make it ideal for specialized applications. It has the highest melting point of all metals, at over 3400°C, giving it excellent high temperature strength. Tungsten also has high density, around 19 g/cm3, which provides good vibration damping capacity. Additionally, tungsten maintains its strength even at elevated temperatures. These characteristics have led to the development of various tungsten alloys and their use in high-heat applications.

Tungsten Alloys

The most common tungsten alloys are made by mixing tungsten powder with other metal powders like cobalt or nickel using powder metallurgy techniques. The powder is first compacted into a desired shape by pressing. The compact is then sintered at high temperatures, up to 1400°C, to fuse the particles together. This produces a dense material with uniform microstructure. Further densification can be achieved through hot isostatic pressing (HIP).

Some examples of tungsten alloys include:

  • Tungsten carbide (WC) - Hard alloy used for cutting tools and wear-resistant parts
  • Tungsten heavy alloys (WHA) - Alloy with nickel-iron or nickel-copper used for counterweights
  • Tungsten high-speed steel - Used for metal cutting tools due to hardness and hot strength


The unique properties of tungsten alloys make them suitable for applications requiring high temperature strength, hardness, and wear resistance. Some examples include:

  • Cutting tools - Tungsten carbide is used for making drill bits, saw blades, and other cutting tools.
  • Aerospace - Tungsten alloys are used for rocket nozzles and other high-heat components.
  • Electronics - Tungsten filaments in light bulbs, electron emitters, heat sinks.
  • Automotive - Tungsten heavy alloys for vibration damping in motorsports/racing vehicles.

Tungsten's metallurgy allows it to serve critical functions across many industries. Continued research aims to further improve tungsten alloys for next-generation applications.

How is Tungsten Carbide Powder Made?

Tungsten carbide powder is produced by carburizing tungsten powder through various high temperature processes. The most common methods are gas pressure carburizing and solid-state carburization.

Gas Pressure Carburizing

In gas pressure carburizing, tungsten powder is reacted with a carbon-containing gas like methane or propane at temperatures between 1200-2000°C. The gas decomposes and the liberated carbon diffuses into the tungsten particles to form tungsten carbide. This method allows close control over carbon content.

Solid-State Carburization

Here, tungsten powder is intimately mixed with a carbon source like graphite or carbon black and heated to 1400-1800°C. The carbon diffuses into the tungsten particles resulting in tungsten carbide formation. This simple process can be done in a variety of furnaces.


Tungsten carbide powder has excellent hardness, toughness and wear resistance. It is widely used to manufacture:

  • Cutting tools like drill bits, milling cutters, turning tools
  • Wear-resistant parts for mining and construction equipment
  • Nozzles, dies and other components requiring high durability

With specialized processing, tungsten carbide powder can be tailored to meet the demands of various applications.

What is Tungsten Powder Used for?

Tungsten powder has a wide range of applications across various industries due to its unique properties. The key factors that determine the value and price of tungsten powder are:

  • Purity - Higher purity grades (99.9% and above) command much higher prices than lower purity grades. Impurities negatively impact properties.
  • Particle size distribution - Finer and uniform particle sizes are preferred for applications like cemented carbides. Larger particles sizes are cheaper.
  • Composition - Tungsten powder composition like oxide content affects applications. Pure tungsten is expensive.

Currently, the prices of tungsten powder range from $20 to $500 per kg based on above factors. The prices fluctuate frequently based on market demand and supply dynamics.

China accounts for over 80% of global tungsten production and has significant control over prices. Prices rose sharply in the early 2010s due to Chinese export quotas before crashing in 2015. The COVID-19 pandemic also disrupted supply chains and caused price spikes.

Reducing production costs through advancements like recycled tungsten and more efficient processing can help stabilize long-term prices. Furthermore, diversifying supply chains to reduce dependence on China will be key for end-users of tungsten powder.

Applications in Industry

The major applications of tungsten powder include:

  • Cemented carbides - Used to make cutting tools, wear-resistant parts for mining and construction.
  • Superalloys - Imparts strength and corrosion resistance at high temperatures.
  • Filaments - Tungsten wire filaments for light bulbs, cathode ray tubes.
  • Welding - Tungsten electrodes for arc welding applications.

Tungsten alloys are widely used in aerospace for turbine blades, automotive for engine components, electronics for heat sinks, and in the metalworking industry for cutting tools.

The unique properties of tungsten make it critical for these high-performance applications in demanding environments.

Importance of Efficient Production

Efficient large-scale production of tungsten powder is vital to meet the rising industrial demand. Improving yields, recycling tungsten scrap, and preventing waste can significantly lower costs.

Automation and process optimization also boost output. Environmentally friendly processes are also gaining prominence.

Reliable logistics and inventory management through the entire tungsten supply chain also prevents shortages and helps maintain stable pricing.

Overall, cost-effective and sustainable production along with resilient supply chains is key to ensuring a stable tungsten powder industry.