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What is Graphite?
Graphite is a shiny grey mineral that naturally occurs when carbon in rocks becomes crystalline.
Graphite consists of parallel sheets of carbon atoms in a hexagonal array and requires considerable pressure and temperature to form. A single sheet of graphite is called graphene and there are approximately three million layers of graphene in one millimetre of graphite.
Graphite has unique properties including very high thermal and electrical conductivity.
Graphite is used in thousands of applications and products with major consumption by the steel and manufacturing industries.
Graphite is finding new markets with use in products as diverse as insulation panels and battery/energy technologies.
Graphene is the subject of major commercialisation efforts and expected to initially find large market share in conductive inks and polymer composities.
Natural graphite market
Natural graphite market (1.0Mt/yr) worth US$1B/yr with main consumption in steel and refractories, batteries, automotive parts and lubricants.
Annual consumption is split approximately 45% for microcrystalline flake (particle size <75 micron; also called amorphous) and 55% for macrocrystalline flake (particle size >75 micron, commonly called flake).
Graphite is most commonly sold as a concentrate by private contract and therefore prices are not transparent. Industry prices are surveyed and published by Industrial Minerals magazine.
Graphite price is determined by particle (flake) size, carbon content (purity) and in some products, shape. Most natural graphite is sold to traders who upsell to refiners/purifiers, polishers and shapers before it is retailed to end user.
Historical graphite market growth related to diverse industrial demand of 3-5% annum; new markets growing 7-10% annum.
Graphene market in infancy but growing fast, reported CAGR 75% to 2020.
New Demand Driver
Graphite is a significant component of many types of battery, particularly Li-ion.
Battery grade graphite is currently made by shaping and treating large flake graphite.
Commonly there is 10 times more graphite than lithium in a Li-ion battery anode.
Electric vehicles currently use 10kg to 90+kg of graphite per vehicle in batteries alone.
Increased mobility of energy, storage devices, graphene and other new technologies offer a carbon age that is expected to impact positively on future demand for natural graphite.