Molybdenum was discovered by Carl Welhelm Scheele, a Swedish chemist, in 1778 in a mineral known as molybdenite (MoS2) which had been confused as a lead compound. Molybdenum was isolated by Peter Jacob Hjelm in 1781. Today, most molybdenum is obtained from molybdenite, wulfenite (PbMoO4) and powellite (CaMoO4). These ores typically occur in conjunction with ores of tin and tungsten. Molybdenum is also obtained as a byproduct of mining and processing tungsten and copper.
Molybdenum has a high melting point and is used to make the electrodes of electrically heated glass furnaces. Some electrical filaments are also made from molybdenum. The metal is used to make some missile and aircraft parts and is used in the nuclear power industry. Molybdenum is also used as a catalyst in the refining of petroleum.
Molybdenum is primarily used as an alloying agent in steel. When added to steel in concentrations between 0.25% and 8%, molybdenum forms ultra-high strength steels that can withstand pressures up to 300,000 pounds per square inch. Molybdenum also improves the strength of steel at high temperatures. When alloyed with nickel, molybdenum forms heat and corrosion resistant materials used in the chemical industry.
Molybdenum disulphide (MoS2), one of molybdenum's compounds, is used as a high temperature lubricant. Molybdenum trioxide (MoO3), another molybdenum compound, is used to adhere enamels to metals. Other molybdenum compounds include: molybdic acid (H2MoO4), molybdenum hexafluoride (MoF6) and molybdenum phosphide (MoP2).