From mine to market: creating a vertically integrated supply chain for high-specification graphite products

Uses

Graphite is a versatile and essential part of the EV/electrification story but its utilisation covers a broad range of industrial and sophisticated technical applications.

Hexagon considers that key growth segments include energy storage systems (ESS) and industrial applications such as graphite electrodes utilised in specific furnace technologies.

The purity and flake size of graphite affects its price end use. Green energy applications such as lithium-ion batteries, fuel cells and nuclear power will increase demand for graphite in the future.

World: Forecast scenarios for raw graphite1 consumption and lithium-ion battery market, 2017-2027

From: Roskill – Natural and Synthetic Graphite: Global Industry, Markets and Outlook, 2018

Lithium-ion batteries

Lithium-ion batteries have a very high energy density which enables them to store large amounts of electricity. The battery anodes require 10-20 times more flake graphite than lithium carbonate. The average hybrid electric car uses more than 10kg of graphite in its battery, a fully electric car uses up to 70kg and an electric bus uses more than 250kg. High end technological applications such as lithium-ion batteries require large flake, high purity (high carbon content) graphite. This is why flake graphite commands a premium pricing.

Fuel cells

Fuel cells are energy conversion devices that convert fuel such as hydrogen into electrical energy. Within the fuel cell, the proton exchange membrane requires large quantities of graphite. Fuel cells of all sizes are currently emerging in the electronics and utility sectors where they can provide emergency power.

Tesla showcasing the growing demand for Lithium-ion batteries

The increasing demand for graphite is highlighted by Tesla, who is currently building a Gigafactory in Nevada. The Gigafactory is expected to reach full capacity in 2020. Their planned production rate for electric cars is 500,000 per year. The Gigafactory will produce more lithium ion batteries annually than were produced worldwide in 2013.

For more information see the Tesla website

Hexagon is targeting these applications, but is also able to diversify its product offering into high-growth industrial applications, for example the partial displacement of synthetic graphite with McIntosh high purity graphite to enhance the electric performance characteristic in electric arc furnaces (EAF).

China and ROW: Historical and forecast production of synthetic graphite compared with EAF steel output, 2007-2027

From: Roskill – Natural and Synthetic Graphite: Global Industry, Markets and Outlook, 2018

 Electrodes

  • mtpa of synthetic graphite is used for electrodes in EAF (Forecast* growth rate of 16-18% pa).
  • Currently 30% of the world’s steel is made in EAF. China accounts for 50% of that steel production, but only 6% of steel in China is made by EAF which presents a major growth opportunity as smaller more efficient EAF replace larger, polluting Induction furnaces. It follows that with increased EAF steel production, there will be increased demand for recarburiser to make ductile steel and iron.

*Roskill 2018 Report

That diversification strategy also includes:

  • Foils and shielding – nuclear industry
  • Crucibles
  • Rocket parts
  • Refractories – high purity materials
  • Synthetic diamonds
  • Obscuration technologies and
  • Lubricants
  • Carbon raiser