Graphite is a naturally-occurring element known to be the most stable form of carbon and is used for various industrial purposes in both natural & synthetic forms. It is a highly versatile mineral since it possesses the properties of both metals & nonmetals and finds numerous applications across different industries. It is usually found in layers of metamorphic rocks and formed under heat & pressure and in coal beds.
It was used traditionally in manufacturing processes associated with automotive parts, pencils, refractory materials, inks, paints, polymers, paints, and many more products. However, one of its most noteworthy & increasing applications is in high-end lithium-ion batteries. Besides electric vehicle batteries, these batteries have an immense potential to be used in manufacturing power tools, medical equipment, smartphones, 3D printers, and renewable energy storage. In addition, the increasing popularity of graphite in the manufacturing industry is mainly due to its rising utilization in furnaces, incinerators, and reactors.
As far as the growth prospects of graphite manufacturers are concerned, a recent research study has cited that the Global Graphite Market is set to record over 5% CAGR during 2022-27. It would be flooded mainly on the back of the growing requirements for lithium-ion batteries in the electric vehicle industry and the rising application of graphite in the metallurgy domain, which comprises electrodes, refractories, foundries, & nuclear reactors, among others.
The Top Forces Driving the Graphite Industry Globally
The graphite industry is highly fragmented into different segments and across various geographic locations. Natural & synthetic are the two types of graphite, wherein synthetic graphite is more prevalent owing to its excellent thermal properties, high purity levels, and enhanced corrosion resistance & durability than its natural form. Synthetic graphite is used extensively in different applications like foundries, coatings, electrodes, conductive fillers, lubricants, & refractory materials, among others.
On the other hand, amongst various end-users in the market, such as automotive, metallurgy, electronics, etc., graphite is most consumed in the metallurgy sector in the form of electrodes used in furnaces for different processes, including steel making, smelting, & ferroalloy production, among others.
As for the geographic analysis of the graphite industry, Asia-Pacific is the clear leader and holds the largest market share, with China as the largest exporter, producer, & consumer of graphite. It is followed by India, the second-largest crude steel producer, witnessing burgeoning requirements for both iron & steel across the automotive & infrastructure sectors.
Graphite as a Refractory Material
With high-temperature stability & chemical inertness, graphite is considered perfect as a refractory material used for manufacturing refractory bricks, Mg-C (Mag-carbon) refractory bricks, crucibles, ladles, molds for holding molten metals, functional refractories for the continuous casting of steel.
In iron production, a part of the blast furnace lining is made using graphite blocks, which should have high thermal conductivity, thermal shock resistance, decent chemical resistance, low thermal expansion, and structural strength at high temperatures.
Moreover, various forms of alumina-graphite are used as continuous casting systems— nozzles & troughs for molten-metal transfer, electric-arc furnaces to withstand extreme temperatures, and carbon magnesite bricks lining the steel converters.
A Challenging yet Promising Future of the Graphite Industry
The future of the graphite market and its dependent industries would not be without its share of challenges. There has been an increase in awareness and government regulations associated with the environmental challenges of mining procedures. Moreover, a significant imbalance has been observed in graphite demand-supply across some regions, and this overburdening has led to considerable stress for industries, especially steel. A decrease in steel consumption has a direct & negative impact on the demand for graphite.
Severe disruptions to graphite production & consumption were observed due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 that hindered the growth trajectory of the global industry and caused roadblocks in the manufacturing processes & supply chains along with exports from China. Due to these reasons, there was a drastic demand fall for graphite globally, especially across Asia-Pacific.
Moving forward post the pandemic, as manufacturing processes got back on track along with a worldwide demand surge for better technology & equipment, the graphite market witnessed a rapid & skyrocketing hike. Especially with the resources now involving graphene, an incredibly robust graphite component with tightly bound carbon atoms, several industries can extract the best properties of graphite elements through it, like its tensile strength, flexibility, malleability, & conductivity. However, graphene technologies are still in the early stages but developing rapidly, with various emerging potential applications, which can help bridge the demand-supply gaps and create new avenues for the Global Graphite Market in the years ahead.