Derived from the Greek term “graphein,” meaning “to write,” and named by a mineralogist in 1789, graphite has played a significant role in human progress. Its impact ranges from its usefulness in pencils and industrial lubricants to its vital role as a conductor in batteries. Graphite can be categorized into two types: naturally occurring flake graphite and its synthetic counterpart. While flake graphite has historically been utilized in the production of crucibles, refractory items, lubricants, and brushes, its importance now lies in fabricating and enhancing the efficiency of lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles (EVs). This indispensability stems from its unique characteristics, including remarkable resistance to extreme temperatures, oxidation, and corrosion, as well as exemplary thermal and electrical conductivity. In contemporary EV lithium-ion batteries, the presence of flake graphite is approximately twice that of lithium and cobalt.
The global graphite production has been predominantly led by nations such as China, Russia, India, and Brazil. According to the United States Geological Survey, the estimated global graphite mine production in 2021 was around 1.0 million tons, with China contributing approximately 80% of this total yield. Conversely, countries like Canada and the United States, despite actively promoting the transition from fossil fuel vehicles to EVs and having known graphite deposits, make minimal contributions to the global supply.
The lack of a viable alternative for flake graphite in the lithium-ion battery sector indicates that its demand is expected to surge. Industry experts estimate that an additional 4-5 million tons of flake graphite will be required to meet the energy storage demands driven by the growing EV market. Furthermore, S&P Analytics projects a staggering 400% increase in EV sales by 2030. Consequently, it becomes imperative for more nations to enhance exploration and development activities to domestically meet this demand. This approach will help reduce reliance on imports, which not only involve the transportation of materials over long distances but also risk faltering in reliability as demand escalates.