What is graphite used for?
Traditional demand for graphite is largely tied to the steel industry where it is used as a liner for ladles and crucibles, as a component in bricks which line furnaces (“refractories”), and as an agent to increase the carbon content of steel. In the automotive industry it is used in brake linings, gaskets and clutch materials. Graphite also has a myriad of other uses in batteries, lubricants, fire retardants, and reinforcements in plastics.
Industrial demand for graphite has been growing at about 5 per cent per annum for most of this decade due to the ongoing industrialization on China, India and other emerging economies. However, the “blue sky” for the graphite industry is the incremental demand that will be created by a number of green initiatives including Li ion batteries, fuel cells, solar energy, semi conductors, and nuclear energy. Many of these applications have the potential to consume more graphite that all current uses combined.
The market for graphite exceeds one million tonnes per year (“Mtpy”) of which 60% is amorphous and 40% flake. Only flake graphite which can be upgraded to 99.9% purity is suitable for making Li ion batteries. The graphite market is almost as large as the nickel market (1.3 Mtpy), far larger than the markets for magnesium (429 Mtpy), molybdenum (180 Mtpy) or tungsten (55 Mtpy), and more than 50 times the size of the lithium or rare earth markets.