Graphite and Graphene Weekly Review: Demand for Graphite is increasing
Batteries were propelled to the top of the business news last week after the few airlines currently operating the highly advanced Boeing 787 airliner had to ground them following a series of mishaps with cabin fires. The cause of the fires has been attributed to overheating batteries, which are used to a greater extent than any other passenger aircraft on the 787 to provide auxiliary power and other mechanical systems, which formerly relied on power from fossil fuel powered auxiliary unit. The lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries on board are lighter than conventional batteries, generate more energy while recharging very quickly. As many laptop and more than a few electric car owners have discovered, sometimes Li-ion batteries can catch fire. Graphite batteries also rely on graphite, and for all the gloom experienced by the Boeing, the solution to its problem will be found and it will still involve batteries using graphite anodes. The Airbus 350, similar to the Boeing 787, will soon enter production and it will benefit from Boeing’s experience.
There were many reports related to new battery technology meanwhile. Graphene, in particular has been touted as one of the key materials that will contribute to improving lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries and research at Northwestern University in the United Kingdom, showed that a sandwiched a layer of silicon between graphene sheets in the anodes of Li-ion batteries improves charging and capacity performance. Moreover, graphene is not only advancing in the number of applications; production methods are also being conceived with cost and volume in mind. Research at Kansas State University is looking at ways to synthesize graphene more cheaply and more easily, avoiding the vacuum environment that has been used so far especially where rechargeable battery applications are concerned.
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ProEdgeWire also discussed the state of graphene research and how the majority of new graphene patents are being registered in Asia and the United States, while Europe – where graphene was discovered – research is lagging behind and concentrated in academic environments. The difference is staggering: China led the graphene patent numbers contest with 2,204, followed by the USA and South Korea at 1,754 and 1,160 while the UK, where graphene was first studied, had a lowly 54. Among private enterprises it was not surprising to find Samsung in the lead. Why should Europeans be concerned? Graphene is one of the key materials of the future; it has a number of structural, aerospace and electronics applications, which suggest that competition to lead the research and development of this material is only going to intensify. It would not be exaggerated to propose that control of graphene translates to control of future technology. Of course, graphene is completely related to graphite, especially high purity and large flake graphite; the very kind that has been drawing miners to launch exploration projects in areas known or suspected of concealing this kind of mineralization.
Quebec and eastern Ontario are well known for having the capability of yielding high quality graphite. China still controls much of graphite production, which makes new deposits outside China very important and which has stimulated a number of graphite mining projects in areas outside of China. Last week, Focus Graphite (TSXV: FMS; OTCQX: FCSMF), known for its development of the Lac Knife deposit, rich in high purity graphite that is highly suitable for conversion in graphene, announced that it has signed an agreement with the Brazilian Lara Exploration Ltd to operate the Caninde project for the extent of the agreement (five years). A significant flake graphite mineralization area has already been identified with indicated graphitic carbon content reaching of over 40%. This is very high considering that 20% graphitic carbon content in some noted flake graphite producing areas in Ontario and Quebec is considered high. Brazil is the world’s third largest producer of graphite and it is also an end user for value added graphite products such as electrodes and aerospace composites; it is also the third largest manufacturer of refractories. Focus has therefore established a strong position in one of graphite strategic growth areas; indeed, Brazil intends to boost graphite production to avoid having to rely on Chinese sources.
The share valuations for ProEdgeWire’s graphite partners saw very little overall change last week at 0.15%. Galaxy Graphite (TSXV: GSY) saw the biggest gains, 25%, of the week after it reported favorable assay results from its Fall 2012 drill program at the SUN Graphite project in Quebec, revealing two zones of prospective graphite mineralization. The other companies all reported minor gains or losses within a very small percentage range. Nevertheless, graphite remains a valuable prospect as suggested by the 2012 United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) report on graphite released last week noted that while natural graphite was not produced in the United States in 2011, there was more demand as reflected by a “more than 7% increase on domestic imports of graphite for consumption from 2010 to 2011. During this period, prices paid for flake graphite, lump and chip graphite, and amorphous graphite have all increased as well”.