IM24: Graphite to stay dominant in lithium battery anodes

By Davide Ghilotti
Published: Monday, 11 June 2018

Graphite will continue to be the preferred material for battery anodes, with growth in electric vehicle (EV) output forecast to generate around 16% growth in graphite demand by 2025.

Graphite is set to remain the leading anode material component for lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries in the foreseeable future, with the battery industry poised to drive demand for the mineral, delegates heard at the 24th IM Congress in Barcelona on June 7.

Battery technology will continue to employ graphite as a key component going forward, and demand will increase as a result, according to Christoph Frey, managing director of Germany-based consultancy and graphite trading company ProGraphite.

"Graphite currently holds over 90% of the market share for anode materials used in lithium-ion batteries," Frey told delegates.

This position of dominance, he added, is expected to hold.

While the materials and volumes used in the battery cathode – lithium and cobalt among others – can vary depending on the battery technology, and research actively looks to develop alternatives to lower the exposure to these materials, graphite is a constant, common denominator of all batteries now in use.

Growth forecasts for the li-ion battery industry are supporting the view that feedstock demand will follow the uptrend.

"Demand for flake graphite from the lithium-ion battery sector is expected to increase at a 15.7% CAGR [compound annual growth rate], and graphite will keep its position as main anode material for many years," Frey said.

"The increase in lithium-ion [battery] production is unstoppable," he added.

Specifically, ProGraphite forecasts that the total battery capacity required will reach 400 GWh by 2025, based on an estimated EV output of 6.6 million units by that year (330 GWh of equivalent capacity required), and including additional demand (70 GWh) from other applications.

For graphite, this would equate to 440,000 tonnes of graphite anode material which, considering a 50% graphite content equivalent, would mean 220,000 tonnes of natural graphite.

Refractories, for comparison, would remain the single largest end-market for graphite (forecast at 315,000 tonnes by 2025), but growth is at a meager 0.4% CAGR.

The company forecasts global graphite demand to reach 920,000 tonnes by 2025, which would be 60% growth from total 2016 demand at 580,000 tonnes.

"[Such an] increase in demand from 2016 is expected, mainly because of the growth in the lithium-ion battery sector," Frey said.

China and EVs

The bulk of this growth is expected to take place in China, and in the electromobility and EV sectors.

The Chinese automotive market is "the growth driver for li-ion batteries", Frey said, describing the domestic expansion of EVs as "immense".

For end use, different end markets have been supporting the growth of the battery sector .

The initial growth trend for li-ion was mainly connected to the fast expansion of electronic devices. This drove growth between the early 2000s until 2014-15. This market is now perceived as having reached maturity level – growth since 2013 has been much slower than in previous years.

Over the last few years, EVs have been the new driver of demand for batteries in China and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere.

Data from Avicenne shows that EVs were the single largest component of total li-ion battery sales in 2016, accounting for some 35,000 MWh globally. Within that, China accounted for about two-thirds of sales.

Industrial Minerals last assessed the price of uncoated spherical graphite, 99.95% C, 15 micron, at $2,800-2,900 per tonne fob China on June 7. This was up from $2,250-2,700 per tonne assessed on January 18, following growing demand and limited availability.

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