Discovery of rhenium is generally attributed to Noddack, Tacke, and Berg, who announced in 1925 they had detected the element in platinum ore and columbite. They also found the element in gadolinite and molybdenite. By working up 660 kg of molybdenite in 1928 they were able to extract 1 g of rhenium.
Rhenium does not occur free in nature or as a compound in a distinct mineral species. It is, however, widely spread throughout the earth's crust to the extent of about 0.001 ppm. Commercial rhenium in the U.S. today is obtained from molybdenum roaster-flue dusts obtained from copper-sulfide ores mined in the vicinity of Miami, Arizona and elsewhere in Arizona and in Utah.
Some molybdenum contains from 0.002% to 0.2% rhenium. More than 150,000 troy ounces of rhenium are now being produced yearly in the United States. The total estimated Free World reserve of rhenium metal is 3500 tons. Rhenium metal is prepared by reducing ammonium perrhentate with hydrogen at elevated temperatures.
It is widely used as filaments for mass spectrographs and ion gauges. Rhenium-molybdenum alloys are superconductive at 10 K.
Rhenium is also used as an electrical contact material because it has good wear resistance and withstands arc corrosion. Thermocouples made of Re-W are used for measuring temperatures up to 2200C, and rhenium wire is used in photoflash lamps for photography.
Natural rhenium is a mixture of two stable isotopes. Twenty six other unstable isotopes are recognized.