Year in Review 2013: Graphite and graphene

By Siobhan Lismore-Scott
Published: Friday, 20 December 2013

Graphite markets have focused on growing demand and new innovations in graphene, which this year moved closer to commercialisation.

January

The UK government outlined plans to advance development of graphene with a £21.5m ($35m) investment fund announced at the end of December. This came after a new report revealed the bulk of research into graphene is taking place outside the UK, the country in which it was discovered.

China imposed a 6.5% import tax on coated spherical graphite in a move to strengthen its influence over on the lithium-ion (li-ion) battery market. Certain countries, such as Bhutan, Palestine and Serbia, will incur a higher levy of 35% but major importers, like the US and major European countries, all remain on the lower tier.

Manzhouli Customs officials in Inner Mongolia, China, uncovered an operation to smuggle large quantities of flake graphite out of the country by reporting lower than actual export prices. By reporting prices below the market value of the material, an unnamed Chinese company evaded tax totalling Chinese renminbi (Rmb) 486,400 ($78,000) on exports of more than 2,000 tonnes flake graphite worth around Rmb11m ($1.8m).

March

London-listed biofuels producer Biofutures International Plc said it is to use graphene-enhanced drilling fluids made from biogases to tap the booming shale gas market under the new name, Graphene NanoChem.

Global defence contractor and technology firm Lockheed Martin was awarded a patent by the US Patent and Trademark Office for a graphene-based water filtration technique, which it claims is 100 times more efficient at desalinating solutions than conventional techniques. The process uses a material called Perforene, which was developed by Lockheed Martin by puncturing holes one nanometer or less in diameter in a graphene membrane.

April

Sri Lanka’s trade ministry approached the Chinese government for investment in its mining and mineral processing sectors, with particular emphasis on mineral sands and graphite. Rishad Bathiudeen, Sri Lanka’s Minister for trade and commerce, was quoted as telling China’s envoy to Colombo, Wu Jianghao, during a visit to the island in March that “Sri Lanka wants to upgrade its mineral sector,” and that it was looking to Asia’s biggest economy to back its development initiatives.

Canada’s Grafoid Inc. signed a joint venture (JV) agreement with CapTherm Systems Inc. to develop and commercialise graphene-based thermal management systems for electric vehicle (EV) batteries and light emitting diodes (LEDs).

The company later announced that it signed a two-year R&D agreement with the University of Waterloo, Ontario, to develop energy storage materials for the automotive and portable electronics sectors.

British science innovations such as graphene and quantum computing were highlighted as being targeted by industrial spies seeking to steal technology secrets, the UK security service MI5 warned in April.

Elsewhere, graphene’s ability to penetrate multiple markets and command prices of over a billion dollars for small quantities are purely conceptual credentials, given that the material has yet to define a market, was the message from graphene companies attending the Graphene Live 2013 conference in Berlin.

One of Canada’s leading graphite exploration companies, Mason Graphite Inc, joined only a handful of juniors in publishing production and cost details of its Lac GuŽret project in north Quebec. Using IMs graphite prices as the basis for its preliminary economic assessment (PEA), Mason expects to produce a tonne of flake graphite concentrate for $390/tonne which, if realised, puts it in line with the higher-cost Chinese producers.

Swiss graphite producer Timcal SA, part of Imerys, has confirmed that it is “seriously considering” graphene as a market for its graphite products” Graphene production is one potential route for natural graphite, as well as synthetic carbon, and this is interesting to us,” Dr Sergio Pacheco Benito, development scientist for Timcal, told IM at the ImagineNano Graphene 2013 meeting in Bilbao.

Two of the world’s leading manufacturers of synthetic graphite products, Germany’s SGL Group and US-based GrafTech International, reported weaker than expected results for the first three months of 2013, citing difficult market conditions.

Chinese exports of amorphous graphite increased for the first time in April, with monthly figures reflecting a more robust market for amorphous products amidst continually sluggish flake demand.

May

Northern Graphite Corp. (NGC) released a revised resource estimate of almost 70m tonnes for its Bissett Creek property in Ontario. Measured and indicated resources at the deposit were stated as 69.8m tonnes grading at 1.74% C, based on a 1.02% C cut-off grade. The new estimate also contained 24m tonnes of inferred resources grading at 1.65% C, using a 1.02% C cut-off, and was calculated based on results from a 61-hole drilling programme at Bissett Creek

The first trademarked graphene product, MesoGraf was launched by Canadian mining and technology firm, Focus Graphite Inc.

June

The Sri Lankan government revealed that it plans to develop its domestic graphite industry through the encouragement of foreign investment, state-owned Kahatagaha Graphite Lanka Ltd told IM.

Imerys-owned global graphite producer Timcal suspended mining at its Lac des Iles graphite mine in Quebec, Canada.

July

TSX-listed Flinders Resources Ltd began selling reprocessed flake graphite from the Woxna mine in Sweden, following a twelve year gap in commercial production from the deposit. The first truckload of graphite was delivered to a customer in Germany, having been reprocessed from a stockpile built up when Woxna was last mined by Woxna Graphite AB, between 1996 and 2001.

Meanwhile, a fire aboard an Ethiopian Air Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which grounded flights at London Heathrow, did not appear to be linked to the aircraft’s li-ion batteries, accident investigators said.The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said that the fire, which took place while the aircraft was parked on stand, was isolated in the upper portion of the rear fuselage, a distance from where the aircraft’s batteries are located.

Synthetic graphite manufacturer SGL Carbon raised the price of its graphite electrodes by up to 30% in a bid to mitigate a fall in the value of the products, which forced the company to cut its profit outlook twice in 2013.

August

China Carbon Graphite Group Inc. (CCG), China’s largest supplier of fine-grain and high-purity graphite, reported a net loss of $10.96m for the first half of the year, down from a net income of $1.11m for the same period in 2012.

September

China has sustained huge demand for isostatic graphite for its photovoltaics (PV) manufacturing industry, despite a worldwide slump in the solar cell market, a new report, Global and China Isostatic Graphite Industry Report 2013-2015, released in September said.

South Korean companies were moving through the field in the race to secure patents for the commercialisation of graphene. According to the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO), a total of 2,921 graphene-related patents were applied for in Korea between 2005 and June 2013.

Zenyatta Ventures Inc. hit back at “misleading and inaccurate commentary” which caused the TSX-listed graphite junior’s shares to pitch sharply in September. Zenyatta did not explicitly reference any comments, but its statement was thought to refer articles published online in September, questioning the miner’s alleged lack of evidence supporting the geological credentials of its Albany hydrothermal graphite deposit in Ontario.

Timcal was rumoured to have recommenced graphite mining operations at the company’s Lac des Iles deposit in southern Quebec, Canada.

Hu Zijian, president of South Graphite Co. Ltd, the world’s largest producer of amorphous graphite, said that consumption of Chinese graphite is still a long way behind mine output, and that production was being cut back as a result.

October

Graphene-based capacitors, displays and structural materials are set to be the biggest consumers of graphene by 2023 accounting for a projected 56% of market share, a report by Massachusetts, US-based BCC Research found, in October.

US electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors said that it was considering building a li-ion battery factory which could be the biggest in the world.

November

Dr Martin Kemp, theme manager for engineering and applications at Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network, said at Innovation in Materials that about 7,000 patents worldwide have been developed since the discovery of graphene in 2004.

A research team from The University of Manchester received a Grand Challenges Explorations grant of £62,000 ($100,000*) from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to manufacture condoms out of graphene composite materials.

December

Big North Graphite Corp. made a fourth sale of 125 tonnes amorphous graphite from its Sonora, Mexico-based processing facility to a local customer.

Stratmin Global Resources Plc. completed a preliminary sales order of 200 tonnes of +70% C graphite from its Lohorano graphite project in Madagascar. The first shipment of graphite from Stratmin’s project was received by Grafitbergbau Kaiserberg in Austria, which confirmed grades of up to 78.5%.

Syrah Resources Ltd upgraded 90% of the indicated resource at the Ativa zone of its Balama West graphite project in Mozambique into the measured category.The measured resource for the deposit stands at 11.6m tonnes grading at 19.9% C and 0.4% vanadium, which is sufficient to support a mine life of 11-12 years, Syrah said.