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GRAPHITE

What Is Graphite And Where Do I Use It?

  • Graphite (chemical symbol C) is one of the purest and most crystalline forms of carbon and can be either mined or synthetically made.
     

  • Natural graphite powders are mined and occur in 3 different forms: vein, amorphous (actually microcrystalline) and flake.
     

  • Synthetic graphite powders are made from carbon precursors (such as needle coke and pitch) through a high temperature electrochemical process.

  • Due to its combination of metallic and non-metallic properties, graphite is used for a wide variety of applications. At the EU level, the main ones are steel making (32%), batteries (25%) and lubricants (13%).

 

Where is Natural Graphite Produced?

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  • Global production of natural graphite reached 1,6 million tonnes in 2024.

  • The global producers of natural graphite are China 81%, South

       America (Brazi) 4%, Europe 2%, North America (Canada) 1%,

       rest of the world (Africa and Australia) 10%. (Source: Wood

       Mackenzie, Feb 2024).

 

  • China remains the main natural graphite producer. According

       to recent data, graphite production in 2023 in China reached

       1.32 million tonnes. 1.1 million tonnes are flake graphite, the

       rest is amorphous graphite. (Source: Wood Mackenzie, Feb

       2024).

 

  • Th recycling rate depends on the type of product, some are consumed in the processes to produce other materials, such as the use of electrodes in steel scrap recycling or anodes in aluminium production. Recycling and re-processing of spent graphite-based refractories such as cathodes of the aluminium industry started more than thirty years ago in the EU and amounts to 10-15% in the EU. 

 

  • The recycling of black mass and the graphite contained in this from battery applications is on the rise and in particular hydrometallurgical processes are being developed and carried out in the EU. With the increasing number of EVs and the end-of-life batteries emerging after the lifetime, the economy of scale will soon be reached.​

 

Where is Synthetic Graphite Produced?

 

  •  A large portion of the total the demand for graphite is met

        by synthetic graphite, which are estimated at 3,996 million

        tonnes in 2023.

 

  • In 2023 China remained the main producer with 71 %, other

      Asia, 13%, Europe 10%, North America, 5% and other

      countries 1%.

  • In Europe synthetic graphite is produced in Austria, France,

      Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland, Spain and Sweden.

Global Market

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  • The global graphite market was valued around USD 24.5 billion in 2023 (Polaris Market-Research, 2024). The graphite market is complex and fragmented because natural graphite is not a homogeneous commodity. 

 

  • The end uses, and the associated commercial value of graphite is determined by the characteristics and purity of the graphite and the subsequent processing of graphite. In many cases, specific applications require specific purities. Typically synthetic graphite is used for graphite electrodes, graphitised cathodes and anodes, battery anode material, refractories, carburisers, castings, lubricants, friction products, and other shapes for many other uses.

 

  • Both natural and synthetic graphite can be used in several applications and are used separately and jointly to achieve highest performance.

 

  • Graphite is an essential ingredient in the production of the lithium-ion batteries that will power the electrical and hybrid vehicles of tomorrow. Therefore, the demand of graphite is forecasted in strong increase in the future.

 

  • High purity iso-static graphite is an essential ingredient for the production of silicon and solar panels as well as fuel cells and semi-conductors.

 

Specific Issues for Graphite

  • For many applications there is no existing substitute for graphite, e.g. in refractories, fuel cells, silicon and semi-conductor production.

  • Another fast-growing market is predicted to be expandable graphite for fouling of heat exchangers, insulation and fire-retardant products.

  • Graphite is an inert and non-toxic material (Leguérinel and Le Gleuher 2017), it is not subject to restrictions by the REACH regulation (ECHA 2019).  However, raw materials for synthetic graphite production are needle coke and coal tar pitch (high temperature):​​​​

    • The needle coke supply is at risk due to the overall policies on fossil fuels, not recognising the need for fossil resources for chemical processes.

    • Coal tar pitch is a substance of very high concern under the REACH and CLP regulations. No substitute has been found so far despite research and efforts in industry and academia. Restrictions of use of this substance would lead to delocatlisation of the industry.

 

Applications

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