The split of the global market for graphite between natural
flake and synthetic graphite was a regular topic of debate
among delegates at the 7th Graphite & Graphene Conference
While high-precision markets for graphite develop, such as
lithium-ion batteries and flame retardants, the industry is
asking whether consumers will opt for natural or artificial
material, and how this will shape global consumption.
As well as the different costs of the materials –
with natural flake still significantly cheaper than synthetic
graphite – conference participants noted other factors
that must be taken into account.
"You need to compare [like with like], and that
doesn’t happen in many cases. While cost is a
factor, you need to consider the performance and properties of
your material," Fabrizio Corti, business director for synthetic
graphite at Imerys Graphite & Carbon, said.
Questions about the long-term sustainability of both natural
and synthetic materials, and the indirect costs related to both
types, will also need to be addressed, Corti added.
Synthetic graphite supply is less affected by the problems
in mining or processing in producing areas – and
these, as has been shown by China’s
environmentally driven restrictions, can disrupt output. But
the production process for synthetic is energy-intensive, thus
At present, there is a perception, shared by several
industry participants, that demand for synthetic graphite is
growing quicker than it is for natural material.
"Synthetic is growing a bit faster than natural, in my
opinion," Gerry Hand, vice president for marketing at Superior
Graphite, said. His view was shared by other delegates.
At the same time, most participants agreed that the majority
of users will settle into using a mix of both types of
graphite. Depending on the application for their output, the
share would tip in favor of one or the other.
Participants canvassed by Fastmarkets during the London
conference suggested that this market split could be 50:50. But
a 60:40 split in favor of either type of material was also
Batteries: a maze of formulas
In the battery space, there is still a perceived lack of
clarity on battery component makers’ production
processes and inputs.
"When it comes to battery makers, not even we, who have been
supplying graphite to them for many years, clearly understand
the exact composition of their formulas [regarding the
proportions of natural and synthetic]," one delegate told
Fastmarkets on the sidelines of the event.
Different sub-sectors of the battery industry may rely on a
larger share of synthetic graphite, while others may use more
natural material, he added.
Battery makers supplying the consumer electronics markets
have relied on natural graphite feedstock for years. This is
likely to continue, the delegate said, but noted that anode
producers for the electric vehicle sector seem to rely more
heavily on synthetic graphite.
"You also must consider whether you are looking at
international battery makers in South Korea or Japan, or at
companies in China supplying the domestic market," the delegate
added. "There are bound to be differences there too."