Work is underway on a new facility in Depew that will provide tungsten as a raw material to two companies, including one in Japan.
Last November, Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd. announced the start of tungsten refining and scrap recycling operations in the U.S.
Sumitomo Electric Carbide Inc., a subsidiary of Sumitomo Electric, and New York Tungsten LLC, a subsidiary of Buffalo Tungsten Inc., a tungsten powder producer in Depew, established a joint venture company, Niagara Refining LLC, a hydrometallurgy plant that will produce tungsten trioxide - referred to as WO3 - from raw ore as well as recycled material.
Niagara Refining President Roger Showalter said construction of the new plant at 5661 Transit Road in Depew, located at the same facility as Buffalo Tungsten, has been underway for two years.
They've begun commissioning some equipment and expect startup in April. The plant won't be completed, he said, until later this year.
He described the process that will take place there as using chemistry to refine metals.
"We'll be processing metals in a chemical (solution) form," Showalter said. "We're processing raw materials, metal in a chemical form. You dissolve it, and put it in water-based solution and treat it to remove impurities."
Showalter's family owns Buffalo Tungsten which, according to its website, dates to 1987. Buffalo Tungsten employs around 60, and Niagara Refining about 30. Showalter said he anticipates hiring around 20 more in the coming months.
Tungsten is the primary raw material in carbide cutting tools and is categorized as a rare metal. In the past, Sumitomo Electric has mostly relied upon import for its tungsten supply. Since tungsten is found in only a limited number of countries, and its supply is highly volatile.
Showalter said the joint venture was necessary because both Buffalo Tungsten and Sumitomo wanted the same raw material, but wanted to do so independently of foreign producers.
Until the joint venture, Sumitomo had been importing WO3 from China and other countries to produce tungsten carbide powder as a raw material for carbide tools. It has also been engaged in tungsten scrap recycling at their Toyama, Japan plant since 2011. With the start of the new Depew operation, Sumitomo Electric will be able to produce raw materials for tungsten by refining tungsten ore from tungsten mines, and recycling scrap collected from the market.
Sumitomo Electric will accelerate its activities to facilitate a stable supply of tungsten raw materials, utilizing WO3 production at Niagara Refining and its own tungsten carbide powder production.
According to Sumitomo's website, doing so will allow them to control the supply chain from raw materials all the way to the finished product, which will make the company more competitive.