Tungsten ore under normal light (left) and ultraviolet light (right)
Photo: L. Weber

The heavy metal tungsten (W) is a freely mineable raw material in Austria.

Of all chemical elements, tungsten is the one having the highest melting and boiling points and was therefore mainly used for filaments of bulbs in the past. Nowadays it is a high-tech component in the tool, automobile, aviation, energy, electronics and mining industries. As its density is similar to that of gold, tungsten was used to forge gold bars in the past. However, due to its relative scarcity tungsten is almost as expensive as gold and therefore only insufficiently suited as a substitute.

One of the largest tungsten deposits of the western world is located in the Felber Valley in the Province of Salzburg. The scheelite (carbonaceous tungsten ore, CaWO4) deposit was discovered in 1967 and has been exploited in underground mining since 1975. With an annual production of about 550,000 tonnes, Austria is the seventh-largest tungsten producer in the world. A special feature of scheelite is that the mineral looks white in daylight, but fluoresces under UV light (see picture).

According to the European Commission tungsten is a “critical raw material”. Critical raw materials are raw materials which play an important role in the economy and for which there might be supply shortages in Europe. Tungsten is also classified as “conflict mineral”. More detailed information can be found under conflict minerals.

The current production data for Austria and the world can be found in the Austrian Montan-Handbuch and in the international statistics on raw materials, WORLD MINING DATA.