Move over lithium

Just a month ago, hit the alarm button for graphite, reporting predictions that 97 new mines will be needed 12 years from now to meet demand (reports MiningNews).


No pressure, then.

And now the mainstream media is getting in on the act. First the Washington Post, now The Economist — and if the latter in particular takes an interest, then you know people will sit up and take notice.

Graphite, after all, is the largest single component of a lithium-ion battery and, in spite of many claims in recent years to the contrary, the Li-ion battery still rules the roost. We've heard a great deal about other technologies taking its place at the head of the battery table but, so far, they all remain in the shadows.

Before we get into the weeds, it is worth noting that the graphite producer stake list has changed markedly over the past eight years. In 2014, this was the ranking:

  1. China (with 67% of global output)
  2. India                                              
  3. Brazil
  4. Turkey
  5. Canada

Yet for 2022, these were the top producers:

  1. China
  2. Madagascar
  3. Mozambique
  4. Brazil
  5. South Korea

6 (Equal). Russia and Canada

As an aside, one would have to note that for all the years of exploration and money raising, Australia does not rate as a global producer (and remember how the Eyre Peninsula was once bruited about as "the Pilbara of graphite"). But then, neither does the US have any domestic supply.

The Washington Post's take on graphite was that "the stuff in pencils is now part of our national neurosis — and makes the lithium gap look easy by comparison". As The Economist would do this week, the Post explained the whole anode thing, clearly and easily understandable.

"How much graphite was mined in the US last year?", the paper asked. "Not enough to fill a pencil" And it hadn't done so since the 1950s.

In fact, if the Post had checked its own files it would have noted a three-sentence, down-page item on page B3 of its 28 October 1949 edition:

Ashland, Alabama: The only graphite mine in the Western Hemisphere operates near here and employs only 50 men. The Alabama Flake Graphite Co. of Birmingham [Alabama], owners of the mine, sell most of its 400 tons-a-day output to the government. Other deposits comparable to the "unlimited supply" here are in Bavaria, Ceylon and Madagascar.'

So, even then, the US had scant local supplies.

And the Washington Post made a very valid point: in the case of lithium, China dominates only the processing; but with graphite it dominates the mining as well to the tune of about two-thirds of world production. On top of that, the Chinese control 60% of synthetic graphite production and almost 100% of coated spherical graphite output.

There's more: according to the International Energy Agency, some 98% of announced planned anode manufacturing increased capacity over the next seven years will be built in China. No wonder the Americans are getting neuroses.

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