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Carbon occurs naturally in three forms: diamonds, amorphous (coal, charcoal, etc), and graphite. Graphite occurs in three forms: Flake, lump/vein and amorphous. Natural graphite has a variety of applications: refractories, batteries, steelmaking, brake linings, foundry facings and lubricants to name a few. But more and more when we think of graphite we think of batteries.
China is the largest graphite producer, having produced 70% to 80% of the world’s supply over the last 25 years. Importantly in 2013 China became a net importer of flake graphite.
Graphite is considered a key, strategic material in the emerging green technology economy (also known as the Carbon Age) that includes advances in energy storage, electric vehicles, photovoltaics and electronics from smartphones to laptops. Graphite is also the source of the material of the future known as graphene.
Demand for flake graphite is being driven upwards by green technology. The current graphite market supply: China controls approx. 80% of the world’s graphite market (46% flake graphite, 53% amorphous graphite and 1% vein graphite). Large flake graphite supply is very limited. Only this kind of natural graphite can be used in Li-ion batteries, fuel cells, and other green tech. Credit Suisse predicts a 20% CAGR increase from 2016 onwards for flake graphite due to the increase demand from Li-ion batteries.
Tesla Motors plans to build a “Gigafactory,” the biggest battery factory in the world, while China and Russia have announced plans for building similar Gigafactories. With potential new markets in the replacement of petroleum coke in the aluminium industry, the growth of batteries and the graphene revolution the future looks bright for graphite.