Wolf Minerals based in Perth, Western Australia, has been granted permission to open a former wolfram mine in South Devon, UK to produce tungsten concentrate (WO3 65%) for smelting in Europe.
The deposit at Hemerdon near Plymouth has been described by the British Geological Survey, (in press) as one of the largest tungsten resources in the western world, with a total ore tonnage of 218.53Mt containing 318.8kt of tungsten. The deposit is currently being taken forward with the prospect of the first production of concentrate in 2013.
The United States Geological Survey estimates global tungsten reserves (proven, workable deposits but excluding Hemerdon) at 2.8Mt. China accounts for over 60% of world reserves. Other countries with reserves of tungsten, typically a tenth of the reserves of China, include Canada, the CIS and the USA.
In China, the Ministry of Land and Resources recently capped the production of tungsten concentrate at 87kt for 2011.
Primary global tungsten production increased steadily from 35.6kt in 1998 to an estimated 66kt in 2010, of which China produced over 80%. Demand for tungsten tends to correlate closely with economic output, as tungsten demand in one year reflects growth in GDP from the previous year. Primary extracted tungsten meets about 66% of total demand. The remaining 34% is supplied through recycling.
For the period 2010 to 2015, demand at the world level is estimated by Roskill to grow annually by 6-7%, with global demand reaching almost 90kt by 2015. However, existing production capacity and production capacity from all current new projects is likely to fall short of that demand, creating a growing shortfall.
The EU Commission in June 2010 identified tungsten as being one of the 14 most critical mineral raw materials essential to the European economy but which are under threat of restricted availability.