Where is Tungsten Found?

Tungsten is formed through a process that begins in the cores of massive stars. As a star ages and approaches the end of its life cycle, nuclear fusion reactions in its core create heavier and heavier elements. Eventually, the star explodes in a violent event known as a supernova.

The Formation of Tungsten: Where is Tungsten Found?

Tungsten is formed through a process that begins in the cores of massive stars. As a star ages and approaches the end of its life cycle, nuclear fusion reactions in its core create heavier and heavier elements. Eventually, the star explodes in a violent event known as a supernova.

During a supernova explosion, immense heat and pressure fuse atoms into elements as heavy as uranium. Tungsten is one of the elements produced through this process. Supernovae are the only way elements heavier than iron, like tungsten, can form naturally.

When a supernova scatters the newly created elements across space, tungsten atoms bond with other elements to form tungsten compounds. These compounds become incorporated into gas clouds, asteroids, and planetary bodies like Earth. Tungsten is now found dispersed in trace amounts throughout the universe.

On Earth, tungsten did not naturally occur as a pure, isolated element until it was first isolated by chemists in the 18th century. Instead, it is found combined with other elements in minerals and ores. Tungsten atoms bond readily with oxygen, sulfur, calcium, iron and other elements abundant on Earth.

The most common tungsten-bearing minerals are scheelite (CaWO4) and wolframite ((Fe,Mn)WO4). These minerals crystallized from magmas millions of years ago and concentrated tungsten compounds within specific rock formations and deposits.

Tungsten's formation through supernovae, dispersal in space, and concentration on Earth into specific minerals and ores leads to tungsten deposits that can be mined today. While scarce, tungsten is now readily available for modern applications thanks to its cosmic origins.

Is tungsten rare on earth?

Tungsten is considered relatively rare compared to other elements found on Earth's crust. It has an average abundance of about 1.25 parts per million (ppm), making it the 56th most abundant element. However, despite its scarcity, tungsten is widely distributed throughout the planet.

Tungsten is primarily extracted from wolframite and scheelite ores, which are found in various locations worldwide. China is the largest producer of tungsten, accounting for more than 80% of the global supply. Other significant tungsten-producing countries include Russia, Canada, Vietnam, and Bolivia.

The rarity of tungsten can be attributed to its geological formation. Tungsten deposits are typically associated with granitic rocks, which are formed through the cooling and solidification of magma deep within the Earth's crust. The process of forming such rocks is complex and occurs over millions of years, making the concentration of tungsten relatively low.

Despite its scarcity, tungsten has gained significant importance due to its unique properties. Its high density, hardness, and resistance to heat make it an ideal material for a wide range of applications. Tungsten is commonly used in the production of alloys, such as steel, to enhance their strength and durability. It is also used in the manufacturing of electrical wires, light bulbs, X-ray tubes, and various electronic devices.

In recent years, there has been growing concern about the global supply of tungsten. The increasing demand for this metal, coupled with limited reserves and geopolitical issues, has raised concerns about its long-term availability. Some experts predict that the demand for tungsten could outpace supply in the near future, leading to potential shortages and price volatility.

To address this issue, efforts have been made to explore alternative sources of tungsten and improve its recycling rate. Recycling tungsten from scrap materials can help reduce the reliance on primary sources and ensure a more sustainable supply chain. Additionally, exploring new mining sites and improving extraction technologies can help increase the global tungsten reserves.

What was tungsten originally called?

Tungsten was originally known as wolfram. The name "wolfram" originated from the mineral wolframite, which is one of the main ores of tungsten. The word ""wolfram"" itself has an interesting history. It comes from the Swedish words ""wolf"" (meaning wolf) and ""ram"" (meaning foam), referring to the difficulties miners faced when extracting tungsten from the ore.

tungsten history

Where is Tungsten Found in Nature?

The geological formations where these tungsten is found in nature are diverse, encompassing skarns, veins, and porphyry deposits. Skarns, metamorphic rocks rich in garnet and pyroxene, often host scheelite deposits. These high-temperature, calcium-rich environments are ideal for the formation of this mineral. Vein deposits, meanwhile, typically contain the wolframite series minerals - ferberite and hubnerite. These minerals form in quartz veins within older granitic rocks, often alongside other valuable minerals like gold and cassiterite. Porphyry deposits, large igneous intrusions that result in disseminated ore deposits, are another crucial source of tungsten. These complex geological structures can contain vast quantities of tungsten, among other metals, making them a significant focus for mining operations.

Scheelite is recognized for its bright fluorescence under ultraviolet light, glowing a brilliant blue-white. Its crystals are usually tabular and pseudo-octahedral in shape, adding to its unique aesthetic appeal. Ferberite, in contrast, is noted for its high density and hardness, along with its black color and semi-metallic luster. It commonly forms in short to long prismatic crystals. Hubnerite shares many physical properties with ferberite but distinguishes itself with its brownish-red to reddish-black coloration. Its prismatic crystals, similar to those of ferberite, can be strikingly beautiful. Understanding these visual characteristics can enhance your ability to identify and appreciate these vital tungsten-bearing minerals.

Where Does Tungsten Come From

Tungsten in the Earth's Crust

Tungsten is rarely found in its pure form in nature. Instead, it typically occurs combined with other elements in various minerals and ores. The most important tungsten minerals are scheelite and wolframite.


Scheelite is a calcium tungstate mineral with the chemical formula CaWO4. It is an important ore of tungsten and the most abundant tungsten mineral. Scheelite occurs in high-temperature hydrothermal veins and greisen deposits associated with granitic intrusions. It also occurs in skarn deposits formed by metasomatism of calcareous sediments. Major scheelite deposits are found in China, Russia, Australia, and the western United States.


Wolframite is an iron manganese tungstate mineral with the chemical formula (Fe,Mn)WO4. It is another significant ore of tungsten. Wolframite forms under similar conditions as scheelite in hydrothermal deposits. However, it tends to occur in higher-temperature environments and in deposits associated with silicic magmas. Important wolframite deposits occur in China, Portugal, Russia, Spain, and Bolivia.

Other less common tungsten minerals include ferberite, huebnerite, and stolzite. Tungsten is also found substituted in other minerals such as sphalerite and cassiterite.

Tungsten deposits are formed by specialized magmatic processes and hydrothermal solutions associated with igneous intrusions. Tungsten tends to become concentrated in specialized granites and pegmatites through magmatic differentiation. It is also concentrated through hydrothermal activity in veins, greisens, skarns, and porphyry-type deposits.

Tungsten Minerals: Wolframite and Scheelite

Tungsten is primarily found in several minerals. The most common of these are scheelite, wolframite, ferberite, and huebnerite. These minerals are the primary sources of tungsten, with wolframite being the principal ore mineral of this metal. Wolframite, an iron manganese tungsten oxide, is often associated with tin ore in and around granite country rocks.

Tungsten mining is a global operation, with significant deposits found in various countries. China, Russia, Portugal, Austria, and Bolivia are among the leading nations where tungsten is extracted. In particular, China stands out as the world's largest tungsten supplier, holding approximately 75% of the global supply. This dominance extends to the United States, where China has been the main source of imported tungsten since 2017, accounting for 29% of total American tungsten imports between 2018 and 2021. In the United States, significant tungsten deposits are found in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

However, there has been minimal production of tungsten from mines in the U.S. since price crashes in the 1980s. Despite the widespread availability of tungsten, it's worth noting that the extraction process is not without challenges. Tungsten deposits have been mined in the United States since the late 19th century, but there has been minimal production of tungsten from mines in the United States since price crashes in the 1980s. Tungsten is necessary for strategic, consumer, and commercial applications. China's dominance in the global tungsten market is undeniable. The country holds 58% of the world's tungsten reserve and supplies around 85% of the world's tungsten. This control over the tungsten supply has led some countries to regard the global tungsten supply as at risk.

Tungsten Minerals, Ores, and Deposits

Tungsten is rarely found in its pure elemental form in nature. Instead, it occurs in various minerals and ores that contain tungsten compounds. The most important tungsten minerals are scheelite (CaWO4) and wolframite ((Fe,Mn)WO4). These account for almost all of the world's supply of tungsten.

Scheelite is a calcium tungstate mineral that forms in high-temperature hydrothermal veins associated with granitic intrusions. It appears as translucent crystals with a white, yellowish, or brownish color. Scheelite fluoresces under UV light, making it easy to identify. Major scheelite deposits are found in China, Russia, Australia, and the western US.

Wolframite is an iron manganese tungstate mineral that occurs in quartz veins and pegmatites. It is found in many parts of the world, including China, Vietnam, South Korea, Russia, Portugal, and Australia. Wolframite is black to brownish red in color and has a distinctive striated appearance in crystals. It is a major source of tungsten.

Formation of Tungsten Deposits

Tungsten deposits form through magmatic-hydrothermal processes when tungsten-bearing fluids derived from cooling magma interact with surrounding rock. The fluids transport and concentrate tungsten by replacing and filling fractures in the rock over time. High temperatures are needed to keep tungsten in solution.

Scheelite and wolframite deposits form when the mineralizing fluids cool down through chemical reactions with wall rocks. The deposits occur in quartz veins, stockworks, greisens, and skarns. Skarn deposits account for the largest proportion of tungsten resources globally.

Characteristics of Tungsten Deposits

Tungsten deposits have distinct characteristics based on how and where they formed. Vein deposits consist of narrow mineralized quartz-wolframite-scheelite veins in fractures and faults. Stockworks form from many thin veinlets in shattered rock. Skarn deposits occur at the contact between intrusive rocks and limestone or dolomite.

Tungsten deposits are often associated with tin and sometimes copper or molybdenum. They are formed at high temperatures and pressures and are found in specific geological settings like granites and metamorphic terrains. The largest deposits are formed in belts along convergent plate boundaries.

Ore grades in tungsten deposits range from 0.09% to 1.5% WO3, but most commercial operations require a minimum of 0.5% WO3. The deepest deposits can reach depths of up to 2 km or more.

Geological Requirements

Certain geological conditions are necessary for economic tungsten deposits to form:

  • A large intrusive source of tungsten-bearing magma
  • Presence of limestone or dolomite host rock
  • Structures like faults and fractures that allow mineralizing fluids to migrate
  • High heat flow environment
  • Pressure differences to drive hydrothermal fluid flow

Tungsten deposits are typically found in orogenic belts and areas with active plate tectonic processes. Regions with known granitic intrusions and carbonate-rich sedimentary sequences are most prospective.

What is Tungsten Most Commonly Found in?

Tungsten is most commonly found in certain types of igneous rocks and related mineral deposits. The primary tungsten ores are the minerals scheelite (CaWO4) and wolframite ((Fe,Mn)WO4). These minerals are found in igneous rocks such as granites, pegmatites, and skarns that are formed by the crystallization of magma.

Scheelite and Wolframite Deposits

Scheelite is more abundant and easier to process than wolframite. It occurs in high-temperature hydrothermal veins and greisen deposits associated with granitic intrusions. Significant scheelite deposits are found in China, Russia, Canada, and Australia. Wolframite is less common and forms under high pressure and temperature conditions in pneumatolitic veins associated with granitic stocks. Major wolframite sources are in China, Portugal, and Tasmania.

Skarn Deposits

Skarn deposits account for a significant proportion of global tungsten resources. They form when igneous intrusions come in contact with carbonate sedimentary rocks like limestone and dolostone. This causes the minerals in the carbonate rocks to recrystallize into silicate minerals like garnet, pyroxene, and amphibole - which can contain scheelite. Major skarn-related deposits are found in China, Russia, Canada, South Korea, and Austria.

Porphyry Deposits

Porphyry deposits host subordinate amounts of scheelite and wolframite associated with molybdenum sulfide mineralization. They form when magmatic-hydrothermal fluids interact with wall rocks around porphyritic intrusions. The resulting stockwork vein networks can contain economic grades of tungsten. Significant porphyry tungsten deposits occur in China, Mongolia, Russia, and the western United States.

In summary, tungsten predominantly occurs in specific igneous rocks and related hydrothermal mineral deposits where magmatic and hydrothermal processes have concentrated it to economic levels.

Global Reserves of Tungsten

Where is the Element Tungsten Found

The leading producers of Tungsten are China, Vietnam, Russia, Bolivia, and Rwanda. These countries have substantial tungsten deposits, contributing immensely to the global supply. China holds the top position as the world's largest producer of tungsten, responsible for over 80% of the global production. Vietnam follows closely behind, tapping into its large reserves in the northern province of Thai Nguyen. Russia, another major player, boasts extensive tungsten deposits in the Far Eastern Federal District, specifically in the Primorsky Krai region. Bolivia, with its mining activities centered around the Pasto Bueno District, and Rwanda, with its bustling mining industry in the regions of Gifurwe and Nyakabingo, also contribute significantly to the global tungsten market.

Delving deeper into these regions, it's clear that the geology of each area plays a crucial role in tungsten availability. In China, most of the tungsten mines are located in Jiangxi, Hunan, and Fujian provinces. These areas are rich in wolframite and scheelite ores, the primary sources of tungsten. Vietnam's Thai Nguyen Province is home to the Nui Phao mine, one of the largest known tungsten deposits globally. Over in Russia, the Primorsky Krai region is renowned for its unique skarn-type tungsten-molybdenum deposits. Bolivia's tungsten mining activity is concentrated in the Pasto Bueno District, known for its rich hydrothermal mineral deposits. Similarly, Rwanda's Gifurwe and Nyakabingo mines are recognized for their significant wolframite concentrations.

While the aforementioned countries are the top producers, tungsten mining is by no means limited to these locations. Other countries, such as Canada, Portugal, and Australia, also play a crucial role in the global supply of tungsten. For instance, Canada's Northwest Territories are home to the Cantung Mine, one of the largest operating tungsten mines outside of China. Portugal, with its Panasqueira mine, has been a significant European supplier for over a century. Meanwhile, Australia contributes to the global supply through its tungsten mining operations in Tasmania. These countries, though not the largest producers, underline the global spread of tungsten resources and emphasize the importance of diversified supply chains in the tungsten industry.

According to the United States Geological Survey, China was the largest producer of tungsten worldwide, accounting for over 80% of the global production. Moreover, tungsten recycling also contributes significantly to the supply, highlighting the importance of sustainable practices in the industry.

Understanding where tungsten is found and how it is extracted provides valuable insight into its significance in our daily lives. From the mining of tungsten-rich minerals to the complex process of conversion into pure metal using hydrogen or carbon reduction methods, each step is crucial in making this versatile metal available for use in various industries. With its unique properties and widespread applications, tungsten continues to be an indispensable resource, and knowing its origins helps us appreciate the intricate processes that bring it from the earth to our everyday products.