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The anode in Li ion batteries (LiBs") is made out of graphite. A graphite anode is one of the things that make it a LiB and there are no substitutes. LiBs are smaller, lighter and more powerful than traditional batteries and have a flat voltage profile meaning they provide almost full power until discharged. They also have no memory effect and a very low rate of discharge when not in use. Almost all portable consumer devices such as laptops, cell phones, MP3 players and cameras use Li ion batteries and they are now rapidly moving into power tools and bigger devices. This has lead to 20% annual growth in the LiB market.

This growth rate is expected to continue as hybrid electric vehicles (“HEV”), plug in electric vehicles (“PEV”) and all electric vehicles (“EV”), and grid storage applications, are huge markets that are all in their infancy. This has significant implications for the LiB and graphite markets. The batteries are large and the potential demand for graphite very significant. By weight, graphite is the second largest component in LiBs and they contain 10-15 times more graphite than lithium. Because of losses in the manufacturing process, it actually takes over 30 times as much graphite to make the batteries.

There is up to 10 kgs of graphite in the average HEV and up to 70 kgs in an EV. There is far more in a Tesla Model S. Every million EVs, which is about 1% of the new car market, require in the order of 75,000 tonnes of natural graphite to make the batteries which represents a potential ten per cent increase in flake graphite demand. Because of the small size of the flake graphite market, even modest, conservative EV adoption rates will have a big effect on demand. LiB manufacturing capacity currently under construction would require flake graphite production to more than double by 2025.

The anode material used in LiBs, called spherical graphite ("SPG"), is manufactured from either flake graphite concentrates produced by graphite mines or from synthetic graphite. Only flake graphite which can be economically rounded and upgraded to 99.95% purity can be used. The manufacturing process includes micronization, rounding, purification and heat treatment. The process is expensive and wastes up to 70% of the flake graphite feed. As a result, uncoated spherical graphite currently sells for up to USD3,000/tonne or over three times the price of large flake graphite. Coated spherical graphite sells for USD$4,000 to $12,000 per tonne depending on quality and end market.

Almost all Li ion battery manufacturing currently takes place in Asia because of the ready availability of graphite, weak environmental standards and low costs. Secure, cost competitive and environmentally sustainable source of graphite are needed in the west.

Links:
About Spherical Graphite

Green Car Congress

Lithium Ion Battery

Battery Electric Vehicle

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