Canadian graphite juniors prepare for graphene revolution; Australians catching up
Graphite & Graphene Week-in-Review: The graphite and rare earths sectors share some challenges and many junior exploration companies are now competing to secure strong positions in the sector. As noted last week, some 70% of graphite today is produced in China. However, new sources are needed to match the progress in battery and other technologies. The world has concluded that China’s dominance in graphite production should be addressed and so far Canadian companies have been at the forefront. Many of these are developing projects in Quebec and central Ontario, achieving very interesting results. In the cases of some more advanced projects such as Focus Graphite and Zenyatta Ventures, the graphite purity levels have been nothing short of astonishing achieving near 100% purity, rivaling the more expensive synthetic variety. Last week, however, we saw more Australian juniors entering the flake graphite space.
Australian graphite junior companies are in an early phase compared to Canada’s, but an exploration surge is underway in the expectation that the demand for graphite will increase because current supply is not sufficient. Prices for graphite topped $ 1,300/ton in the late 1980s only to drop sharply to the 600-750 USD/ton in the 1990’s as Chinese manufacturers flooded the market. The current worldwide demand for graphite is about 1.14 million tons including flake, or crystalline, graphite and the less rare and expensive amorphous graphite, which is limited to industrial applications. In the long term this should ensure the availability of reliable western resources, should China decide to impose graphite export quotas in the same way that it has for rare earths, especially as greater downstream processing comes on line in China.
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The graphite supply problem is that there are few active mines for this resource outside China and a few dozen are said to be needed in order to address demand. Therefore, Canadian Platinum, with its very high grade and purity potential could become one of the main graphite plays in North America and contribute to the pursuit of resource independence from Chinese graphite sources. Nevertheless, graphite demand is expected to top 1.6 million tons at the end of the decade; more significantly, that demand will feature an increasing share of flake graphite because of the numerous future technology applications that require it.
Some of the Australian companies entering the graphite space include Buxton Resources (ASX: BUX), which has been developing its Yalbra graphite project in Western Australia; Archer Exploration (ASX: AXE), Monax Mining (ASX: MOX), and Syrah Resources (ASX: SYR) have also launched graphite exploration projects reporting favorable results. Syrah’s project is in Mozambique, where another Australian junior Triton Minerals announced on March 19 that it has launched a graphite project in Capo Delgado, the country’s northernmost province. The Australians are following in the wake of Canadian juniors that are already set to begin their next project phases, defining the sizes and grades of their resources.
Zenyatta Ventures continues to move steadily, recording the second highest share price jump at 7.69% after announcing the start of a drill program at its 100% owned Albany deposit. The result comes in a week of very little overall fluctuation in the sector (-0.52%). Canadian Platinum Corp (‘CPC’, TSXV: CPC) experienced the largest percentage increase (12.5%); CPC is exploring the Brabant Graphite Project in Saskatchewan where three graphite mineralization zones have been identified. CPC’s price jump however is more related to favorable drill results from its Allen Lake magnetite drill program. Meanwhile, graphene continued to make headlines. Saab Aircraft announced that it has filed a patent for a new de-icing method for aircraft using graphene, embedding it in a polymer resin that can be used to wrap the wing surface and critical fuselage areas, adding strength in the process.
This is possible because graphene’s very low density adds very little weight and does not alter aerodynamic performance. De-icing is a very significant problem that relies on heavy wiring or cumbersome chemicals that are environmentally harmful. De-icing problems are one of the major causes of air traffic delays and the world has been searching for a novel solution to the problem. Graphene based polymers are also being studied by Airbus and Boeing and they could be at the forefront of a commercial aviation design revolution. Until recently, the battery space and rapidly advancing battery technology were touted as one of the main drivers of graphene demand. Saab’s graphene de-icing technology could lead the way to even stronger graphene demand in the aerospace sector.