Difference Between Molybdenum And Tungsten

Molybdenum and tungsten are two elements that often feature prominently in discussions about advanced materials technology. Both possess unique properties that make them indispensable in various high-stress applications across multiple industries. While they share certain characteristics, significant differences between the two warrant a closer examination.

Molybdenum and tungsten are chemically similar, heavy metals known for their high melting points and substantial durability. Molybdenum, lighter and more flexible, is invaluable in steel alloys to enhance strength and resistance to corrosion. Tungsten, on the other hand, is notable for its outstanding thermal stability and hardness, which make it ideal for wear-resistant applications in sectors like aerospace and military.

Despite their similar roles in industrial applications, molybdenum and tungsten diverge in several key areas including thermal conductivity, price volatility, and environmental impacts. This variance underlines the importance of choosing the right material for specific applications, impacting both performance outcomes and economic feasibility.

Element Profiles

What is Molybdenum?

Molybdenum is a chemical element with the symbol Mo and atomic number 42. It stands out as a silvery-white metal in the transition series of the periodic table. This element is remarkably crucial in the world of metallurgy due to its ability to significantly enhance the strength, toughness, and resistance to corrosion and high temperatures of steel alloys. Molybdenum is predominantly extracted from the mineral molybdenite but is also a byproduct of copper mining.

What is Tungsten?

Tungsten, known by the chemical symbol W and atomic number 74, is another invaluable metal known for its robust characteristics. It is distinguished by its extraordinary melting point, which is the highest of all metals. This quality, combined with its hardness, makes tungsten essential for applications that must withstand extreme environments. It is primarily sourced from wolframite and scheelite ores.

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Physical Properties

Atomic Structure

  • Molybdenum: Possesses a body-centered cubic crystal structure which contributes to its high strength and flexibility under stress.
  • Tungsten: Features a body-centered cubic structure as well, enabling remarkable rigidity and an ability to maintain integrity at high temperatures.

Melting Points

The melting points of these metals are notable:

  • Molybdenum: Melts at approximately 2623 °C (4753 °F).
  • Tungsten: Has an even higher melting point of about 3422 °C (6192 °F), making it excellent for high-temperature applications.

Density and Hardness

  • Molybdenum: Has a density of about 10.28 g/cm³ and is less hard compared to tungsten, but still very durable.
  • Tungsten: Extremely dense at about 19.25 g/cm³, it is also one of the hardest metals in existence.

Chemical Characteristics


Both elements exhibit a low reactivity compared to other metals:

  • Molybdenum: Shows resistance to oxidation at normal temperatures but can react with oxidizers at high temperatures.
  • Tungsten: Generally inert, but may form tungstic oxide when exposed to oxygen at elevated temperatures.

Corrosion Resistance

  • Molybdenum: Highly resistant to corrosion by many acids and molten metals.
  • Tungsten: Exceptionally resistant to many chemical attacks, including acids and alkalis.


Industrial Uses

  • Molybdenum: Essential in the production of high-strength steel alloys used in automotive and construction industries. It enhances the steel’s toughness, making it ideal for heavy-duty structures.
  • Tungsten: Primarily used in the production of hard metals, or cemented carbides, which are vital for cutting and drilling tools due to their toughness.

Role in Electronics

  • Molybdenum: Used in semiconductor industries for thin films and electrical contacts due to its excellent conductivity.
  • Tungsten: Vital for its high-temperature stability, used in the production of electron emitters and for electrical contacts.

Contributions to Aerospace

Both metals are crucial in aerospace for their unique properties:

  • Molybdenum: Used in aircraft parts due to its lightweight and strength at high temperatures.
  • Tungsten: Often found in rocket engine nozzles and spacecraft components because of its ability to withstand extreme heat without melting.

Economic Value

Market Trends

The global markets for molybdenum and tungsten have shown distinctive trends over recent years. Both metals play critical roles in various sectors, influencing their demand and price stability:

  • Molybdenum: The demand for molybdenum has been rising steadily due to its essential role in steel manufacturing and other industrial applications. The growth in sectors such as automotive, oil and gas, and heavy machinery has driven this demand.
  • Tungsten: Tungsten experiences varied market conditions primarily due to its use in specialized applications such as electronics, military, and aerospace. Its supply is often affected by geopolitical issues since major reserves are located in countries with unstable trade policies.
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Cost Analysis

Cost factors for these metals are influenced by their rarity and extraction difficulties:

  • Molybdenum: Typically cheaper than tungsten due to more abundant reserves and less complex extraction processes.
  • Tungsten: Pricier because of its rarity and the complexities involved in its extraction and refinement. Prices can fluctuate significantly based on supply disruptions.

Environmental Impact

Mining Effects

Mining operations for both metals can have profound environmental impacts:

  • Molybdenum: Mining often involves large open pits, which significantly alter landscapes and can lead to erosion, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil and water bodies.
  • Tungsten: Similar to molybdenum, the mining of tungsten can lead to severe environmental degradation. Additionally, since tungsten ore is often found in relatively small concentrations, a vast amount of ore must be processed, amplifying the environmental footprint.

Recycling and Sustainability

Recycling is a key component in mitigating the environmental impact of these metals:

  • Molybdenum: Recycling rates are relatively high, especially from steel alloy scraps, helping reduce the need for new mining.
  • Tungsten: Also highly recyclable, particularly in the cemented carbide industry, where scrap can be reprocessed into new products.

Health and Safety

Exposure Risks

Both metals, while critical to modern industry, pose health risks upon exposure:

  • Molybdenum: High exposure can lead to health issues such as gout-like symptoms or industrial metal pneumoconiosis, a lung disease.
  • Tungsten: While generally considered to be of low toxicity, prolonged exposure to tungsten compounds can lead to respiratory, skin, and even some degree of cancer risk, albeit rarely.

Handling and Storage

Proper handling and storage of these metals are essential to ensure safety:

  • Molybdenum: Should be stored in dry conditions to prevent oxidation. Handling requires protective gear to avoid direct skin contact.
  • Tungsten: Also needs to be stored in a controlled environment and handled with care to prevent accidental inhalation of powders or fumes, which could be harmful.
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Comparison Summary

Key Similarities

Despite their differences, molybdenum and tungsten share several key properties:

  • High melting points and densities, making them ideal for high-strength and high-temperature applications.
  • Both are crucial in industries like aerospace, military, and manufacturing due to their robustness and durability.

Crucial Differences

Understanding their distinct characteristics is essential for proper application:

  • Molybdenum is more versatile in alloying and less expensive, suitable for broader industrial applications.
  • Tungsten excels in applications requiring extreme hardness and thermal resistance but comes at a higher cost and with greater supply risk.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Molybdenum?

Molybdenum is a silvery-white metal in the chromium group. It is used primarily to strengthen steel and other alloys, and to help them withstand high temperatures and corrosive environments. Its ability to maintain strength at high temperatures makes it useful in engines and electrical power generation applications.

What is Tungsten?

Tungsten is a heavy metal known for its robustness and high melting point, the highest of all metals. It is widely used in manufacturing filament of light bulbs, electronics, and as alloying elements in steel to enhance hardness and resistance to corrosion.

Why is Tungsten preferred over Molybdenum in certain applications?

Tungsten’s exceptional hardness and high temperature resilience make it ideal for applications requiring extreme durability and thermal stability, such as in cutting tools, mining machinery, and rocket engine nozzles. Molybdenum, while also robust, offers better flexibility but less hardness, making it preferable in different contexts.

How do Molybdenum and Tungsten affect the environment?

Both metals are mined, which can have significant environmental impacts, including habitat disruption and pollution. However, both metals are also recyclable, which can mitigate some of these effects by reducing the need for new mining.

Are Molybdenum and Tungsten toxic to humans?

In their metallic forms, both molybdenum and tungsten are generally considered to be of low toxicity. However, certain compounds of molybdenum can be toxic if ingested in large amounts, and tungsten alloys should be handled with care to avoid long-term exposure.


Molybdenum and tungsten serve critical roles in modern technology and industry, each bringing distinct properties that benefit various applications. While both elements share similarities such as high melting points and significant durability, their differences are crucial for specialists to consider when selecting materials for specific uses.

In summary, the choice between molybdenum and tungsten will often depend on specific application requirements including desired strength, resistance to heat, and environmental considerations. As industries continue to evolve, the use of these materials is likely to expand, underscoring the need for ongoing research and development in their applications and environmental management.

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