Context- China has recently announced that it will require export permits for certain graphite products in a bid to protect national security. This decision is seen as China’s latest effort to regulate the supply of essential minerals, particularly in light of challenges to its global manufacturing dominance.
Graphite is a naturally occurring form of crystalline carbon. It is a soft, black to grey, lustrous mineral that conducts electricity.
key properties and characteristics of graphite
- Allotrope of Carbon:
- Graphite is one of the allotropes of carbon, the other well-known allotropes being diamond and amorphous carbon.
- While diamond has a tetrahedral structure where each carbon atom is bonded to four other carbon atoms, graphite has a planar hexagonal structure.
- In graphite, each carbon atom is bonded to three other carbon atoms in a flat, 2-dimensional plane that resembles a honeycomb lattice.
- These planes are stacked on top of each other, and the weak van der Waals forces between the planes allow them to slide over each other easily. This gives graphite its slippery feel and makes it useful as a lubricant.
- Graphite is a good conductor of electricity due to the presence of free electrons in its structure.
- This property is utilized in various applications, such as in the manufacture of electrodes.
- Graphite is found in metamorphic and igneous rocks and can be mined from natural deposits. It can also be produced synthetically.
- On the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, graphite is relatively soft, with a hardness of 1-2.
- Thermal Stability:
- Graphite has a high melting point and is stable at high temperatures, making it suitable for high-temperature applications.
Type of Natural Graphite
Applications of Graphite
- Lubrication: Effective in high-temperature and high-pressure conditions.
- Electrodes: Used in batteries, fuel cells, and arc furnaces due to its electrical conductivity.
- Pencil Leads: Graphite mixed with clay forms pencil “lead.”
- Refractory Materials: Utilized in high-temperature applications like furnaces.
- Carbon Brushes: Transfer electrical current in motors and generators.
- Graphene Production: Processed from graphite, graphene has various potential applications.
- Nuclear Reactors: Serves as a neutron moderator.
- Gasket and Sealing Material: Withstands high temperatures and corrosive chemicals.
- Brake Linings: Used in vehicles for its heat dissipation properties.
- Foundry Facing: Provides protective coating on molds and cores.
- Peek Composites: Graphite fibers reinforce peek composites for structural applications.
- Additive Manufacturing: Used in 3D printing due to its thermal and electrical conductivity.
Synthetic Graphite Vs Natural Graphite
|Property/Aspect||Synthetic Graphite||Natural Graphite|
|Origin||Artificially produced (typically from petroleum coke and pitch cokes).||Mined from the earth (naturally occurring form of crystalline carbon).|
|Purity||Very high (often 99% or more carbon) due to controlled production.||Varies; requires more processing to achieve high purity levels.|
|Structure & Properties||Uniform structure and consistent properties. Particle size, shape, and distribution can be controlled.||Varies based on type (flake, amorphous, vein) and source.|
|Cost||Generally more expensive (energy-intensive production).||Typically less expensive, but varies based on quality and source.|
|Applications||Electrodes for electric arc furnaces, lithium-ion batteries, aerospace, nuclear applications.||Pencils, lubricants, brake linings, lithium-ion batteries, nuclear reactors.|
|Environmental Impact||Energy-intensive production; relies on non-renewable resources.||Mining impacts; potentially lower carbon footprint than synthetic graphite.|
|Supply Chain||More controlled (industrial production).||Influenced by geopolitical factors, mining regulations, availability of deposits.|
Carbon footprint of Graphite
Global status of Graphite producing countries
The global distribution of graphite is somewhat concentrated, with certain countries playing significant roles in its production and reserve holdings:
- China is the leading producer of graphite, accounting for about 67% of the global supplies of natural graphite.
- China’s dominance in graphite production was noted, with 65.5% of the total global production of graphite located in this country.
- Other countries contributing to increased graphite production include Mozambique, Madagascar, and Brazil, especially with the commencement of the Montepuez Central Graphite project.
- Turkey held the largest reserves of natural graphite, with approximately 90 million metric tons.
- 27.3% of the global reserves of graphite were located in Turkey, followed by Brazil with the second-largest global graphite reserves.
Graphite in India
- Graphite Reserves Distribution:
- Arunachal Pradesh: Holds the largest share of graphite reserves in India, with about 43% of the total graphite found in the country.
- Jammu and Kashmir: Follows with a significant portion of graphite reserves, accounting for about 37% of the country’s total.
- Other states with notable graphite reserves include Jharkhand (6%), Tamil Nadu (5%), and Odisha (3%).
- Graphite Production Concentration:
- Tamil Nadu (37%), Jharkhand (30%), and Odisha (29%) are the states where most of the graphite production is concentrated.
- Active Mining Centers:
- Jharkhand: Notable districts for graphite mining include Latehar & Palamu.
- Odisha: Graphite mining is active in Bargarh, Nuapada, Rayagada & Balangir districts.
- Tamil Nadu: The districts of Madurai & Sivagangai are known for graphite mining.
Implications of China ban on Graphite
- Increased Prices:
- With China being a major supplier of graphite, a ban on exports could lead to a shortage in supply, thereby driving up prices globally.
- This could make graphite and graphite-based products more expensive in India.
- Battery and Electric Vehicle (EV) Industry:
- India’s burgeoning EV industry could face challenges due to the higher costs and potential scarcity of graphite, which is a key component in lithium-ion batteries.
- Sourcing Challenges:
- Indian industries reliant on graphite may need to seek alternative sources or invest in domestic production to meet their needs, which could involve additional costs and time.
- Potential for Domestic Production:
- On a positive note, this situation might provide an impetus for India to develop its own graphite mining and processing industry further, leveraging its domestic reserves of graphite.
- Trade Dynamics:
- The export controls could also affect trade dynamics between India and China, potentially prompting discussions on trade agreements or policies to ensure the availability of critical materials.