Molybdenum is a silvery-white ductile metal with the atomic number 42 and atomic symbol Mo. It has one of the highest melting points of any pure element. The metal is highly resistant to corrosion and is a micronutrient essential or all life. Molybdenum is a transition metal, which allows it to easily form compounds with other elements.
The name molybdenum is derived from the Neo-Latin molybdaenum, which had originated in response to the Greek word molybdos. The word molybdos means lead, as molybdenum ore was often confused with lead ore. Molybdenum minerals have been known throughout history, but the element wasn't discovered on its own as differentiating from the salts of other minerals until 1778. The metal was first isolated 1781 by Swedish chemist, Peter Jacob Hjelm, using linseed oil and carbon.
The metal had no industrial use for the next century and was was difficult to extract. Molybdenum showed great potential for strong alloys with steel, but efforts to manufacture the alloys yielded inconsistent results. It wasn't until 1906 that a patent was filed, rendering molybdenum ductile. This lead to applications such as a heating element for high-temperature furnaces and as supports for tungsten-filament light bulbs.
Demand for molybdenum spiked during World War I, as it was used as a substitute for tungsten in high-speed steels and in armor plating which allowed for higher speed, better protection, and greater maneuverability. The melting point of molybdenum was much higher than that of steel, which allowed for more protection and longer lasting materials under the conditions of war. Molybdenum again saw importance with World War II as a substitute for tungsten in steel alloys.
Molybdenum is highly resistant to corrosion, and silvery-grey in appearance. The metal is ductile, and shares common features with lead and graphite- both in appearance and its ability to be used to blacken a surface. Molybdenum comprises 1.2 parts per million (ppm) of the Earth's crust by weigh.
Molybdenum does not occur naturally as a free metal, it only occurs in various oxidation states in minerals. It readily forms stable and hard carbides in alloys. For this reason, about 80% of the metal's production is used in steel alloys.
Molybdenum is the 54th most abundant element in the Earth's crust. The main molybdenum ore is molybdenite (molybdenum disulfide), but can also be found in powellite (calcium molybdate) and wulfenite (lead molybdate).
Because of its high melting point, molybdenum is often produced and sold as a grey powder. Many molybdenum items are formed by compressing the powder at a very high pressure. It is used in steel alloys to increase hardness, electrical conductivity, resistance to corrosion and wear, and strength. ‘Moly steel’ alloys are used in parts of engines. Other alloys are used in drills, saw blades, and heating elements. Molybdenum powders are used in microwaves devices and circuit inks for circuit boards. The iron and steel industries account for more than 75% of molybdenum consumption.
Although it is toxic in anything other than small quantities, molybdenum is an essential trace element for all life forms. Molybdenum-dependent enzymes are not only required for human health as well as the health of our ecosystem.
The main molybdenum ore is molybdenite (molybdenum disulfide). Molybdenite is processed by roasting to form molybdenum oxide, and then reducing to the metal. Processing recovered ores occurs in five steps: Milling, floatation, roasting, ferromolybdenum smelting, and molybdenum metal production. It is often recovered a by-product of copper or tungsten mining.
Molybdenum is commonly found in low-grade copper deposits and is usually recovered as a by-product of the copper refining through open pit mining methods. Molybdenum is mined primarily in the United States, China, Chile and Peru. World production is around 200,000 tons per year. China is the leading country in the production of molybdenum mine output, accounting for more than 40% of global production. China also uses 30% of the annual global mined supply.
The coronavirus pandemic hit markets globally at the end of March, when governments started to take steps to slow the spread of the virus. CRU Group Base Metals analyst, James Jeary, explained that “The molybdenum market was hit hard by the pandemic,” when speaking with the INN (Investing News Network). Lockdowns and containment measures impacted demand for metals across the board. molybdenum oxide prices fell gradually from their peak in February to their low point in July. drop in prices was expected given the macro environment and the crash in oil prices, as oil and moly prices have a broad-scale relationship. The recovery in demand is expected to support price gains.
Molybdenum occurs as the principal metal sulfide in large low-grade porphyry molybdenum deposits and as an associated metal sulfide in low-grade porphyry copper deposits. Resources of molybdenum are adequate to supply world needs for the foreseeable future.
The London Metal Exchange (LME) is the world center for industrial metals trading. The LME offers contracts with daily expiry dates of up to three months. Market participants may also partake in weekly contracts of up to six months, and monthly contracts. It also allows for cash trading, offers worldwide reference pricing, hedging, and the option of physical delivery for settling contracts. Molybdenum futures are available for trading on the LME.
Movements or fluctuations in these stock prices bring shortages or gluts to the Molybdenum market. Drops in stocks often accompany an increase in price. Increases in stocks often signify an oversupply and drop in prices.
Overall economic activity, especially the industrial sector, determines the demand for molybdenum. The largest sector that consumes molybdenum is engineering steel and stainless steel. Molybdenum is relatively rare, and does not occur in pure form naturally, therefore production of the metal requires large amounts of energy. Because of this, costs can have a large effect on primary production. The price of scraps may impact the price of secondary production.
Although the price of Molybdenum spike to nearly $40 in 2005, Molybdenum metal prices have mostly fluctuated between $5 and $15 USD per pound over the past decade. In 2021 the price rose to more than $20.00 per pound, breaking out of its decade-long pattern.
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