EDITOR: | May 25th, 2015 | 11 Comments

Graphite supply critical to the development of the automotive industry

| May 25, 2015 | 11 Comments
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Many graphite junior mining companies have been stating that they are going to be selling graphite for the battery application, specifically into electric cars. This quick report is to show the approximate magnitude of this market. The public focus has been on Tesla Motors Inc. and their plans for a giga factory that is projected to have the capacity to produce half a million electric cars per year. This is only part of the story. A total annual worldwide production of approximately six million electric cars is commonly projected by the year by 2020. Note: this projection only includes full electric vehicles and doesn’t include hybrids, or any other use of lithium ion batteries.

As a first approximation there will be about 265 kg of graphite per car. As there are 6 carbon atoms required to store one proton, 0.00107 grams of carbon is required for each watt assuming a 50% efficiency of storage and 1.5V battery cells. The 85 kWhr battery in the Tesla model S would then require an estimated 327 kg of graphite. The range of the car is about 450 km, meaning that 0.77 kg of graphite is required per km of range. The power required can be assumed proportional to the mass of the vehicle when equivalent rolling and air resistances are assumed. The Tesla model S has a mass of 2112 kg. Thus, 0.364 grams of graphite is required per (kg*km). What is does number mean? Multiply this number by a car weight (kg) and range (km) and you get the approximate amount of graphite that is required in the car’s batteries. If you assume the average mass of car, which in 2010 was 1,818 kg, and a range of 400 km, then the average car requires 265 kg of graphite.

The amount of graphite required for annual car production can be estimated using the average mass of graphite per car and a projection of the number of cars manufactured. This is shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Estimated electric car graphite consumption. Assumes an average range of 400 km, vehicle mass of 1,818 kg and battery specific graphite of 0.364 g/(kg*km) resulting in an average of 265 kg per vehicle.

Table1

The projected number of electric cars sold per year in 2020 is about six million. That is 1.59 million tonnes of graphite. Where is all this graphite going to come from? The differential, or the amount of graphite demand increase each year indicates that one, or more, 100,000 tonne per year mines could open each year solely dedicated to electric cars and this market would not be filled.

The graphite will be artificial, natural graphite flakes or natural graphite that has been “balled”. The choice will be economic subject to availability. It is likely, that as long as the quality can be met, the supply will be natural, followed by ball graphite with the remainder being artificial. The economic reason for this is shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Price comparison of the graphite found in the average car battery
Table2

How does this affect the graphite mining industry? The use of natural graphite in these batteries is almost an economic necessity in order to make the vehicles available at a reasonable cost. The total amount of natural graphite currently produced that is applicable to batteries is approximately 50,000 tonnes and this source is shared with cell phones, tablets and laptops. The exact amount doesn’t matter; it is simply a statement that such graphite is currently not produced in the quantity required and that the expansion of the electric car may be limited by this shortage. This can be alleviated to some extent by the production of ball graphite from larger flakes of graphite. However, the supply still isn’t there. This leaves artificial (pyrolytic) graphite meet this market; at an obvious cost.

The conclusion is that graphite at a reasonable cost is already in short supply and will become critical to the development of the automotive industry in the next few years.


Dr. Ian Flint

Editor:

Dr. Flint has been active in the graphite/graphene industry for over 25 years with experience ranging from engineering review, test work, pilot plants, process design, ... <Read more about Dr. Ian Flint>


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Comments

  • DoctorFouad

    thank you very much for this very informative article.
    on another note I think table2 is missing (price comparison of the graphite).

    Dr Ian Flint is Chief Operating Officier of Elcora Resources, hopefully he would succeed in building and commissioning Elcora’s graphite processing plant in Sri Lanka, and sell the high purity sri lankan graphite (99%+) to battery manufacturers.

    I believe that low cost high quality natural graphite could play an important role in substituting the higher cost synthetic graphite in lithium ion batteries anodes.

    May 25, 2015 - 6:04 PM

  • DoctorFouad

    “The total amount of natural graphite currently produced that is applicable to batteries is approximately 50,000 tonnes and this source is shared with cell phones, tablets and laptops. The exact amount doesn’t matter; it is simply a statement that such graphite is currently not produced in the quantity required”

    Very interesting remark.

    I always wondered why not all lithium battery manufacturers use less expensive natural graphite for their anodes instead of the more expensive sunthetic graphite. The answer could indeed be as pointed out by Dr ian Flint : a deficit in supply rather than lack of demand.

    it seems the graphite used for lithium batteries is in the order of 100.000 tonnes per year, of which 50% is of the natural source and the other 50% of the synthetic source (based on petroleum coke°.

    It seems Tesla/Panasonic use (up until now) exclusively synthetic graphite for their highest quality in the market 18650 form factor lithium ion batteries, yet most mobile phone battery manufacturers in China use natural graphite.

    According to many tests done by graphite junior companies, the performance of natural graphite in batteries is comparable and could even surpass that of synthetic graphite. Besides, the natural spherical graphite is produced at a lower cost than synthetic graphite and is sold in the market at a cheaper price (some analysts talk about half the price : 16.000$ VS 8.000$).

    So the reason why Tesla/panasonic do not use natural graphite for their batteries could be attributed IMO to consistency of quality (difficult to achieve with natural graphite compared to standaridized synthetic graphite which could explain why spherical natural graphite is sold at a discount compared to synthetic) and as Dr ian flint point out : lack of supply.

    But if Tesla/Panasonic and other battery manufacturers are serious in their intent of reducing substantially the cost of lithium ion batteries for electric cars, the natural graphite route is the obvious way to pursue, that is if graphite miners could produce the necessary supply, and until new anodes technology becomes feasible at large scales (the most promising IMO is graphene coated silicon anodes, maybe in 5-10 years timeframe).

    May 25, 2015 - 6:31 PM

  • Flemming Jensen

    “The projected number of electric cars sold per year in 2020 is about six million. That is 1.59 million tonnes of graphite”. I think you have a typo here, should be 1.59 billion tonnes.

    May 26, 2015 - 7:12 AM

  • Alpha

    No it is million,the amount per vehicle is expressed in kilos not tonnes.

    May 26, 2015 - 9:55 AM

  • Cam

    Table 2 is identical to table 1. Would appreciate seeing the article reposted with the correct table 2.

    May 26, 2015 - 2:01 PM

  • Goldman

    Thanks very much for the article. Is synthetic graphite able to meet the increase in demand? Synthetic is produced from coke so I am not sure if you can just increase synthetic production at will or it depends on coke refining. Thanks

    May 26, 2015 - 4:50 PM

  • Islay

    Is there some confusion here between the amount of spherical graphite used in EV batteries, and the amount of flake graphite required to produce that spherical graphite?

    Dr Flint’s projection of the number of new mines required to meet EV battery requirements appears to assume that one ton of additional graphite production equates to one ton of battery graphite. Since the yield of spherical graphite is typically less than 50%, this means that we need to more than double his figures for the number of additional 100K tons/year, if natural graphite is to meet demand.

    May 26, 2015 - 10:27 PM

  • Islay

    Sorry, My comment, above, omitted the word “mines”. The last sentence should read:

    Since the yield of spherical graphite is typically less than 50%, this means that we need to more than double his figures for the number of additional 100K tons/year mines, if natural graphite is to meet demand.

    May 26, 2015 - 10:32 PM

  • the_ignored

    It seems that there is a new wrinkle in the battery market when it comes to lithium:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150527151201.htm

    It seems that sodium-oxygen batteries may eventually take precedence?

    May 28, 2015 - 8:32 PM

  • Graphite and graphene industry trend – EuroReads

    […] The total amount of natural graphite currently produced annually, which is applicable to batteries, is approximately 50,000 tonnes. This amount is shared amongst electronics, automotive and grid applications as well as the traditional graphite markets. Demand in battery application is expected to increase exponentially in the coming years. This graphite will be either artificial, natural graphite flakes or natural graphite that has been ‘balled’. The choice will be economic subject to availability. It is likely that, as long as the quality can be met, the supply will be natural followed by ball graphite, with the remainder being artificial. Details of the graphite usage analysis in electric car marketing can be found in Dr Ian Flint’s article ‘Graphite Supply Critical To The Development Of the Automotive Industry’. […]

    June 1, 2015 - 6:56 AM

  • R.Sudhakar

    Very interesting and informative article and discussions. Apart from the
    need to step up the production of natural flake graphite information about the available technology to produce GRAPHENE to suit various applications other than car batteries needs to be disseminated. Further the technical knowledge for industrial applications of GRAPHENE is also , I believe patented and not available for new entrants.

    Another aspect is the grade of natural flake grahite as available in the market . It is only recently that Vein Graphite of Sri Lanka and new discoveries of such Vein/Block Graphite with 90 % + C content has received attention.Most of the natural flake graphite mined in mainly in India, Madagascar, Brazil and China and other countries have grades ranging from 10% to 30% of C content and all of it is not flake variety needed for production of GRAPHENE.

    June 2, 2015 - 9:56 AM

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