In its pure metal form, molybdenum is silvery white with a Mohs hardness of 5.5, though it is somewhat more ductile than tungsten. It has a melting point of 2623°C, and, of the metals, only tantalum, osmium, rhenium, and tungsten have higher melting points. Molybdenum burns only at temperatures above 600°C. It also has the lowest heating expansion of any commercially used metal.
Molybdenum has a value of approximately $65,000 per tonne as of 4 May 2007. It maintained a price at or near $10,000 per tonne from 1997 through 2002, and reached a high of $103,000 per tonne in June 2005.
Molybdenum-92 and molybdenum-100 are the only naturally occurring isotopes that are not stable. Molybdenum-100 has a half-life of approximately 1×1019 y and undergoes double beta decay into ruthenium-100. Molybdenum-98 is the most common isotope, comprising 24.14% of all molybdenum. Molybdenum isotopes with mass numbers from 111 to 117 all have half-lives of approximately .15 μs.
The world's largest producers of molybdenum materials are the United States, Canada, Chile, Russia, and China.
Though molybdenum is found in such minerals as wulfenite (PbMoO4) and powellite (CaMoO4), the main commercial source of molybdenum is molybdenite (MoS2). Molybdenum is mined as a principal ore, and is also recovered as a byproduct of copper and tungsten mining. Large mines in Colorado (Climax) and in British Columbia yield molybdenite, while many porphyry copper deposits such as the Chuquicamata mine in northern Chile produce molybdenum as a byproduct of copper mining. The Knaben mine in southern Norway was opened in 1885, making it the first molybdenum mine. It remained open until 1973.
Molybdenum is the 42nd-most-abundant element in the universe, and the 25th-most-abundant element in Earth's oceans, with an average of 10.8 mt/km³. The Russian Luna 24 mission discovered a single molybdenum-bearing grain (1 × 0.6 µm) in a pyroxene fragment taken from Mare Crisium on the Moon.
A side product of molybdenum mining is rhenium. As it is always present in small varying quantities in molybdenite, the only commercial source for rhenium is molybdenum mines.
In March 2008, researchers reported that they had found strong evidence for the hypothesis that a scarcity of molybdenum in the earth's early oceans was a limiting factor in the further evolution of eukaryotic life (which includes all plants and animals) as eukaryotes cannot fix nitrogen and must acquire it from prokaryotic bacteria. The scarcity of molybdenum resulted from the relative lack of oxygen in the early ocean. Oxygen dissolved in seawater is the primary mechanism for dissolving molybdenum from minerals on the sea bottom.
Though molybdenum forms compounds with various organic molecules, including carbohydrates and amino acids, it is transported throughout the human body as MoO42-. Molybdenum is present in approximately 20 enzymes in animals, including aldehyde oxidase, sulfite oxidase, xanthine oxidase. In some animals, the oxidation of xanthine to uric acid, a process of purine catabolism, is catalyzed by xanthine oxidase, a molybdenum-containing enzyme. The activity of xanthine oxidase is directly proportional to the amount of molybdenum in the body. However, an extremely high concentration of molybdenum reverses the trend, and can act as an inhibitor in both purine catabolism and other processes. Molybdenum concentrations also affect protein synthesis, metabolism, and growth. These enzymes in plants and animals catalyse the reaction of oxygen in small molecules, as part of the regulation of nitrogen-, sulfur- and carbon cycles.
In a human body, there is approximately 9.3 mg molybdenum, comprising .00001% of the total body mass. It occurs in higher concentrations in the liver and kidneys, and in lower concentrations in the vertebrae. Molybdenum is also present within human tooth enamel and may help prevent the decaying thereof. Pork, lamb, and beef liver each have approximately 1.5 parts molybdenum per million. Other significant dietary sources include green beans, eggs, sunflower seeds, wheat flour, lentils, and cereal grain.
The average daily intake of molybdenum is .3 mg. Acute toxicity hasn't been seen in humans, and the toxicity depends strongly on the chemical state. Rats show LD50 as low as 180 mg/kg for some Mo compounds. Molybdenum deficiency is not usually seen in healthy people. Sodium tungstate is a competitive inhibitor of molybdenum. Dietary tungsten reduces the concentration of molybdenum in tissues.
Because of its lower density and more stable price, molybdenum is implemented in the place of tungsten. Molybdenum can be implemented both as an alloying agent and as a flame-resistant coating for other metals. Although its melting point is , molybdenum rapidly oxidizes at temperatures above , making it better-suited for use in vacuum environments.
Molybdenum 99 is used as a parent radioisotope to the radioisotope Technetium-99, which is used in many medical procedures.
Molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) is used as a lubricant and an agent. It forms strong films on metallic surfaces, and is highly resistant to both extreme temperatures and high pressure, and for this reason, it is a common additive to engine motor oil; in case of a catastrophic failure, the thin layer of molybdenum prevents metal-on-metal contact. Lead molybdate co-precipitated with lead chromate and lead sulfate is a bright-orange pigment used with ceramics and plastics. Molybdenum trioxide (MoO3) is used as an adhesive between enamels and metals. Molybdenum powder is used as a fertilizer for some plants, such as cauliflower.
Also used in NO, NO2, NOx analyzers in power plants for pollution controls. At the element acts as a catalyst for NO2/NOx to form only NO molecules for consistent readings by infrared light.
It was not until 1778 that Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele realized molybdena was neither graphite nor lead. He and other chemists then correctly assumed that it was the ore of a distinct new element, named molybdenum for the mineral in which it was discovered. Peter Jacob Hjelm successfully isolated molybdenum using carbon and linseed oil in 1781. For a long time there was no industrial use for molybdenum. The French Schneider Electrics company produced the first steel molybdenum alloy armor plates in 1894. Until World War I most other armor factories also used molybdenum alloys. In World War I, some British tanks were protected by manganese plating, but this proved to be ineffective. The manganese plates were then replaced with molybdenum plating. These allowed for higher speed, greater maneuverability, and, despite being thinner, better protection. The high demand of molybdenum in World War I and World War II and the steep decrease after the wars had a great influence on prices and production of molybdenum.
A roaster processes the molybdenum into a fine powder, pellets, or other forms. Total world molybdenum roaster capacity is currently 320 million pounds per year, barely enough to meet demand. There is not much excess roasting capacity, and no one is actively permitting for the production of any new roasters in the United States. Global roaster capacity also looks limited, and a future roaster shortage is predicted. The data above are based on the assumption that mines will be able to increase output.
Western demand is projected to increase by around 3 percent annually, while China and the CIS demand is projected to increase by around 10 percent annually, increasing overall global demand by around 4.5 percent annually. Increasing demand can be attributed to two main factors. Hydroprocessing catalysts are becoming essential for crude oil. The other contributing factor is the increase in nuclear reactor construction. There are 48 nuclear reactors to be built by 2013, and approximately 100 are to be built by 2020. The International Molybdenum Association (IMOA) says that an average reactor contains about of stainless steel alloy. Some larger reactors contain over 1 million feet of stainless steel alloy. Unless molybdenum mine production picks up at a rapid pace, shortfalls of the metal are expected to arrive around 2009.
254,000 tons of new molybdenum has been discovered in south China's island province of Hainan on October 6th 2008. The mine is expected to produce 7,000 tons of molybdenum annually.