Rising graphite demand opens opportunities for Australian miners

High graphite prices are encouraging development of new projects outside of China, according to market consultant Roskill.

China produces around 70 per cent of the global supply of graphite, but the country is curtailing production to combat pollution.

There are several types of graphite, with high-flake varieties being the most desirable for commercial production. The emerging demand has helped graphite prices rise considerably over the last couple of years, and is opening up the potential of several domestic and international projects for Australian companies.

Syrah Resources started commercial production at the Balama graphite mine in Mozambique in January 2019, overcoming a five-week outage caused by fire issues to deliver 33,000 tonnes of coarse- and fine-flake graphite in the December quarter.

Perth-based Graphex Mining secured a deal to receive a $US85 million ($121 million) loan from Castlelake last year to advance its Chilalo graphite project in Tanzania.

Mineral Resources is also developing a graphite plant for synthetic graphite production in Kwinana, Western Australia, with the Hazer Group.

Despite this activity though, Roskill’s believes that China will remain the primary country for graphite production for the time being, due to its production of spherical graphite, the product released from flake graphite for use in battery anodes.

Graphite is becoming increasingly sought after for its use as a material for anodes in the lithium-ion batteries found in smartphones, laptops, electric vehicles and other electronic devices. They are also used for grid energy storage setups.

“Commercial-scale production has so far been limited to China, however, because of high production costs and the use of strong acids and other reagents,” the report read.

“A number of companies outside China are trying to develop a non-Chinese spherical graphite supply chain, perhaps using more-environmentally-sound methods, but have yet to prove competitive with China at a commercial scale.”

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