Graphite

As the world searches for clean, green power solutions the spotlight has turned to graphite – one of the most unique and versatile of all manufacturing materials. Graphite is a pure form of carbon and closely related to diamonds but its atomic structure is very different giving graphite quite different properties and industrial uses.

Graphite is a semi-metal that conducts heat and electricity and can stand extreme temperatures and chemical exposure, making it highly corrosion resistant. It has multiple uses from lubricants to refractories in steel making, and now in Li-ion batteries, in foils for computers and phones, and for fire retardant building materials.

Natural graphite is mined from open pit and underground operations. Traditional producers in China, Canada, Brazil, Madagascar and India are making way for a wave of modern miners who are using sophisticated mining techniques to develop new resources in emerging graphite regions especially east Africa.

SECONDARY GRAPHITE PROCESSING

International Graphite will apply advanced processing technology to produce consistently high-grade secondary products using high quality natural graphite concentrates produced by the miners. IG’s Mena plant will open with five product lines that progressively purify, refine and concentrate the natural graphite producing a range of secondary products for international manufacturing markets ie:

  • Purified and micronised graphite
  • Expandable graphite
  • High purity fine graphite foil
  • Spheroidised, graphitised battery anode graphite
  • Graphene (stage 2)

NATURAL GRAPHITE

There are three main types of natural graphite. They occur in different ore deposits and vary in grade and purity:

  • Flake is a layered graphite ore used in a broad range of industrial products including battery anodes and fuel cells.
  • Vein or lump is the rarest and purest form with the highest standard of thermal and electrical conductivity. It is easy to shape and is used for many of the same applications as flake graphite but requires less processing to remove contaminates.
  • Amorphous is the most prevalent form accounts for about half of the global natural graphite market and is used for lower value graphite products, such as pencils, brake pads, and rubber additives.

NATURAL vs SYNTHETIC GRAPHITE

Natural graphite can be significantly cheaper and more environmentally responsible than synthetic graphite which is produced from petroleum coke. China has long been a major synthetic graphite supplier but its output has slowed since 2017 following the Chinese Government’s unprecedented crackdown on pollution, in the production of both synthetic and natural flake graphite products. This has created opportunities for International Graphite to introduce new standards of environmental care and sustainability in the secondary graphite market.

Synthetic graphite was invented in the mid-1890s and traditionally considered to be a more consistent and predictable product than processed natural flake, particularly for advanced manufacturing applications.

HISTORY OF GRAPHITE

Graphite has been at the forefront of manufacturing innovation since it was first used to decorate pottery in prehistoric times. The word graphite comes from the Greek word graphein meaning “to write”. Historically, graphite was also known as black lead or plumbago.

Graphite pencils were created in the 1500s by English farmers who used them to mark sheep. The Italians first encased the graphite rods in wooden holders to make carpentry pencils and an eraser was added and patented by Hymen Lipman in 1858. During the reign of Elizabeth I, graphite was used to line furnace moulds for manufacturing cannonballs.

The British Empire controlled most of the world’s graphite production in the 19th Century when they used it to make stove black, lubricants, paints, crucibles, foundry facings, and pencils as public education was introduced for the first time.

In 1855, English chemist Sir Benjamin Brodie, proved that graphite was made of carbon and the Dixon Crucible Company was founded in New York. By the end of the century Canadian miners began exploring deposits and becoming important graphite producers.

Germany’s Bessel brothers refined the revolutionary “froth flotation” process to extract natural graphite and registered a patent in 1877. A century later, the German Society of Mining Engineers and Metallurgists conducted a symposium to celebrate the revolutionary mineral extraction process.

In 2010, Physicists Geim and Novoselov won the Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering a new derivative of graphite known as graphene. The new “supermaterial” is claimed to be the lightest, strongest, thinnest, best heat and electricity-conducting material ever discovered. It promises to revolutionise the engineering of everything from computers to car making flexible display screens and bendable electronics a reality.