Home Element Metal Tungsten


What is tungsten?

Tungsten is a chemical element or strong, silvery transition metal of Group 6 (VIB) of the periodic table with symbol W and atomic number 74. It is used for making steel and lamp filaments due to its hardness. The symbol of tungsten is derived from the name Wolfram which is still used in some literature. The properties of tungsten and molybdenum are very similar but the chemistry of these two metals are slightly different. It has the highest melting point among all metals and second after carbon among all periodic table elements. Tungsten is placed in the d-block of the modern periodic table with group members chromium and molybdenum.

Tungsten discovery

The mineral tungsten (Swedish heavy stone CaWO4) was studied in 1751 by Cronstedt. In 1981 Carl Wilhelm Scheele discovered new oxide from this mineral. Two years later Spanish chemists José and Fausto Elhuyar (two brothers) separated the same oxide from the mineral known as wolframite. They isolated the metal tungsten by carbon reduction reaction by charcoal. The symbol of the metal W is derived from the name Wolfram.

Properties of tungsten

Tungsten chemical element or transition metal symbol and the periodic table properties

The atomic number of tungsten is 74 and electronic configuration [Xe] 4f14 5d4 6s2. It is the last metal in the third transition series in which all the d-electrons participate metallic bonding. The metal is very hard, high melting, and relatively unreactive due to the protective oxide layer. It forms typically metallic body-centered cubic crystal lattice like molybdenum. The metal Cr, Mo, and W are the members of Group-VI in the periodic table. Therefore, the common oxidation number or state of tungsten is +6 (VI).

Properties of Tungsten
Atomic number 74
Electron per shell 2, 8, 18, 32, 12, 2
Electronic configuration [Xe] 4f14 5d4 6s2
Block d-block
Period period 6
Group group 6
Atomic weight 183.84
Melting point 3695 K ​(3422 °C, ​6192 °F)
Boiling point 6203 K ​(5930 °C, ​10706 °F)
Density 19.3 g/cm3
Molar heat capacity 24.27 J mol-1K-1
Electrical resistivity 52.80 nΩ·m
Atomic radius 139 pm
Covalent radius 162±7 pm
Crystal structure ​body-centered cubic (bcc)
Chemical properties    
Common oxidation number +6
Electronegativity Pauling scale: 2.36
Ionization energy (kJ/mol) 1st 2nd
770 1700

Tungsten, transition metal position on the periodic table chemical elements

Where is tungsten found

Tungsten is found in nature mostly as wolframite, Fe(Mn)WO4, and scheelite or calcium tungstate, CaWO4. The main reserve place of metal in China, the United States, South Korea, Bolivia, Portugal, and Russia.

Isotopes of tungsten

The metal tungsten has four natural isotopes (182W, 183W, 184W, and 186W) and one radioactive isotope (180W). The radioactive isotope of the metal has very long lives. All the five isotopes radioactive decay to form hafnium by nuclear reaction. Another 30 radioactive isotopes of metal are observed. These can be obtained by the different types of nuclear reactions.

Production of tungsten powder from wolframite

The concentrated ore of tungsten like wolframite is roasted in the air with sodium carbonate or fused sodium hydroxide (NaOH). The sodium tungstic acid is extracted with water and treated with water. The precipitated tungstic acid is heated to obtained WO3. Pure W metal is obtained by the reduction of metal oxide with zinc, aluminum, or hydrogen. The metals Mo and W have very high melting points and they are obtained initially in the form of powder. It is converted to a massive state by compression under hydrogen at high temperatures.

Chemical Compounds

The chemistry of tungsten is close to molybdenum. The most common and stable oxidation state of the metal is +6 but the +5 and +4 states are also stable. Strong reducing properties of the metal are not met before +3 and +2 states. The oxides, fluorides, oxoacids are formed in different oxidation states.

Tungsten oxide

The yellow WO3 is the end product of heating other compounds of tungsten in the air. It is insoluble in acids. WO3, 2H2O is formed in strongly acidic media. It is called tungstic acid but it is not a hydrated acid. A few lower oxides like WO2 were obtained by the reduction of trioxide with hydrogen. The acidic nature of the oxides decreases with decreasing oxidation state.

Tungsten halides

The hexahalides of the metal are obtained by the direct combination. The colorless fluoride like WF6 is more stable. It is quite reactive and readily reacts with oxygen and moisture to form oxohalide and HF. WBr6 is unstable, decompose on gentle worming. The oxohalides of the metal are two types

  • WOX4 (X = F, Cl, Br): They are volatile, solid covalent compounds, hydrolyzed to give WO3.
  • WO2X2 (X = F, Cl, Br, I): The yellow colour WO2Cl2 decomposes above 200 °C to form WO3 and red WOCl4.

The petahalides of tungsten metal are known. The yellow halide like WF5 is formed by the reduction of WF6 at 500 to 800 °C. Above 30 °C the yellow solid disproportionate reaction between WF4 and WF6. The tetrafluoride of the metal is formed by the reduction of hexafluoride with benzene or other hydrocarbons. It is a nonvolatile red-brown chemical compound.

Tungsten halide clusters

The lower oxidation state of tungsten is unstable and strongly reducing in nature. The metal only forms WCl3 and WBr3 in +3 oxidation state. W(II) is completely unstable. The complex halide of W(II) is W6X12 type (where X = chlorine, bromine, iodine). It forms cluster compounds like (W6X8)+4 X4. The oxidation state zero is observed in the carbonyl complexes like W(CO)6.

Analytical reactions

Hydrochloric acid addition to a tungstate, hydrated tungstic acid is precipitated. On heating, the white precipice of tungstic acid turns yellow. It may be confirmed by heating the precipitate with Zn and HCl or SnCl2 when a blue precipitate is formed. Tungstates are precipitated as benzidine tungstate from a dilute 0.1N sulfuric acid. The precipitate is ignited to WO3 and weighed. At pH scale of 7 to 8 tungstates can be precipitated as BaWO4.

What is tungsten used for

  • The pure tungsten metal is used in making filaments of old-style electric lamps or bulbs and anticathodes in x-ray tubes.
  • Tungsten is an important alloying metal for high-speed tools due to its hardness. It forms several very hard alloys such as satellite (cobalt, chromium, and tungsten) and Widia metal (WC + 10 percent copper).
  • The compound W(IV) sulfide used in high-temperature lubricant and calcium/magnesium tungstates is used widely in fluorescent lighting. The oxide form like WO3 is used as a chemical catalyst in power plants. It converts nitrogen oxide to nitrogen and water in presence of ammonia.
  • Due to hardness tungsten carbide (WC) is an important metal carbide for mining and petroleum industries. It is used for making different types of high-speed cutting tools. It can be prepared by mixing tungsten powder and carbon powder at 2200 °C.

Biological role of tungsten

Tungsten is the only element in the third transition series which function on the biological system. Protein containing the metal is rare and is mainly found in thermophilic anaerobes. It also occurs in several enzymes with molybdenum. The mode of the biological function of transition metal tungsten center in enzymes is involved oxo-transfer of W(VI) to the substrate.