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China has likely reached peak graphite: Benchmark Mineral Intelligence

by Greg Klein | December 15, 2014

Production from the world’s largest supplier of natural graphite dropped to a record low in 2014, according to a December note from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. After hitting a high of 85% of global supply in 2013, China fell to 70% this year, writes Benchmark analyst Simon Moores. Over the next three to five years the country’s output will continue falling to about 50% or 60% of world production. That means “we have likely seen peak graphite supply in China.”

Although demand from the steelmaking industry should continue to grow between 1% and 3% a year, batteries will call for five to 10 times as much graphite, Moores adds. He asks whether consumers will turn to synthetic material to make up the shortfall.

But the market’s currently oversupplied with both natural and synthetic, according to Laura Syrett of Industrial Minerals. Reporting from the Graphite and Graphene Conference in Berlin on December 12, she attributed the glut to a three-year slowdown in steelmaking and slower-than-expected growth in the battery industry.

Still, “growth will come from the battery market,” she quoted Asbury Graphite Mills CEO Stephen Riddle. “This will be from batteries used in electric vehicles and energy storage—not cell phones or iPads. These don’t use enough graphite.”

Synthetic graphite could claim a larger share of the market despite its price, said Fabrizio Corti, senior VP for sales and business development at Imerys Graphite and Carbon. “Only a very small proportion of the graphite we have today is suitable for high-end markets and even this requires heavy processing.”

With natural graphite producers wasting about 60% of volume to create battery-grade material, natural and synthetic costs roughly the same, he told the conference.

Two former flake graphite mines re-opened in 2014, Syrett pointed out. Last April AIM-listed StratMin Global Resources began commercial production at its Loharano mine in Madagascar. In August Flinders Resources TSXV:FDR produced the first concentrate from its Woxna mine in central Sweden.

Flinders has signed a binding letter agreement to acquire Big North Graphite TSXV:NRT, which holds a number of projects in Canada and Mexico including Nuevo San Pedro in Sonora state, a joint venture in which the company test-mines and sells amorphous graphite.

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