Zenyatta improves graphite purity with a “far more significant” process
Zenyatta Ventures Ltd. (TSXV: ZEN | OTCQX: ZENYF) has announced that SGS Canada Inc. (‘SGS’) has managed to produce a high purity and crystalline graphite product using a caustic bake-based process. This is a far more significant achievement than may appear at first glance. Acid leach processes are the more common approaches taken to improve the purity of graphite. A caustic bake, however, involves sodium hydroxide, not an acid, which allows for the recycling of the material, rendering the process more environmentally and economically viable. The caustic bake is no less effective than an acid leach, given that Zenyatta has achieved 99.99% purity levels in testing. The caustic leach method allows for further testing and calibrating such that even higher grades might be possible to achieve because the most important fact about graphite is that the grade ‘at the front end’ matters far less than the resulting purity on the back end. As good as the graphite ore is, the key will always be the effectiveness of the separation methods such that the purer the graphite is the more valuable it delivers a superior electrochemical behavior.
Purity is but one factor in determining mineral graphite’s desirability; structure and shape are also important. Previous tests already demonstrated a very high quality crystal structure, which led Zenyatta to allow over twenty potential end-users to start evaluating the graphite themselves. The Albany graphite is of the rare hydrothermal variety, which means that it occurs at naturally high purity levels and that it is very malleable. Both of these features add to its market desirability and value. The important and simple fact that investors should consider is that the Albany deposit has been proven to present a very high carbon graphitic content, which means the graphite is pure enough to compete with synthetic varieties. Zenyatta’s target customers are precisely the ones, who, until recently, had no alternative to synthetic graphite. The Albany deposit’s purity, therefore, allows Zenyatta to set ambitious sales targets, lithium-ion batteries, pebble nuclear reactors, solar power capacitors, wind power generators and graphene.
Zenyatta and SGS are still optimizing the metallurgical process, improving it along the way, Zenyatta is determined to achieve the best possible process in order to address customer expectations and as wide a variety of application as possible. While this approach is time consuming, it will ultimately make Zenyatta more competitive because the process will be cheaper and fully ‘tailored’ to work with the unique Albany hydrothermal deposit. Some highlights from the recently completed bench testing are clear:
Higher grade flotation concentrate of up to 92.5% graphitic carbon (‘Cg’) produced – compared to the previous 78.3% Cg concentrate.
Optimization of sodium hydroxide, reducing costs related to introduction of re-cycling engineering & equipment.
The flow sheet optimization is expected to continue until commercial applicability and which final purity requirements will be needed to achieve cost effectiveness and customer demands. Some of those demands are that the process be environmentally responsible in view of the ‘clean-tech’ character of so many of Zenyatta’s anxious customers; moreover, the details of the final flow sheet and related associated engineering data will inform the Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) – the PEA is almost ready according to Zenyatta. In the near future, the hitherto neglected commodity of graphite will graduate to become a “mainstream commodity”, given the growing demand for electric cars. Moreover, the storage of renewable energies will prompt graphite demand to increase. There are few graphite producer outside of China, which still has 80-90% market share while the Chinese graphite industry will be subjected to consolidation as smaller and polluting producers have been forced to shut down in the face of tighter regulations.
The outlook for the global graphite market is very promising with demand growing rapidly from new applications. Graphite is now considered one of the more strategic elements by many leading industrial nations, particularly for its growing importance in high technology manufacturing and in the emerging “green” industries such as electric vehicle components. The application for graphitic material is constantly evolving due to its unique chemical, electrical and thermal properties. It maintains its stability and strength under temperatures in excess of 3,000°C and is very resistant to chemical corrosion. It is also one of the lightest of all reinforcing elements and has high natural lubricating abilities. Some of these key physical and chemical properties make it critical to modern industry.
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Adrian Nixon is a Senior Editor at InvestorIntel. He began his career as a scientist and is a Chartered Chemist and Member of the Royal ... <Read more about Adrian Nixon>