EV batteries need graphite – here’s what’s planned for supply

The mineral graphite, as anode materialis a crucial part of a lithium-ion (Li-on) battery. Electrek spoke with John DeMaio, President of the Graphene Division of Graphex Group and CEO of Graphex Technologies. Read on to find out what he had to say about why graphite is so important for electric vehicles, what his company is doing to speed up supply and processing in the United States, and what the Graphite supply is expected to be within the next two years.

Electrek: Why is graphite so important to EV battery manufacturers?

John DeMaio: EV batteries contain four basic components: anode, cathode, electrolyte and separator. Although the focus is on cathode materials – lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, etc. – the predominant anode material used in virtually all electric vehicle batteries is graphite.

Overall, Li-ion EV batteries contain approximately 28% graphite by weight. As an extremely efficient conductor and readily available material, graphite is particularly suitable for Li-ion batteries, as the spaces within the graphite’s crystal lattice are suitable for hosting Li-ions to store energy in a charged battery, a process known as intercalation. Therefore, if electric vehicle battery manufacturers are to meet the growing demand for electric vehicles, a reliable and abundant supply of specialty graphite is important.

Electrek: What is your company, Graphex, doing and what is its strategy to scale up graphite sourcing and processing?

John DeMaio: Graphex intermediates natural graphite into specialty graphite used in EV batteries. Historically, 70-80% of the natural graphite used in electric vehicle batteries came from China, and almost all intermediate graphite processing was done in China/Asia.

Graphex has been a leading supplier of Coated Purified Spherical Graphite since 2013, primarily to the power battery markets in China. In 2021, Graphex created a subsidiary to localize the supply of graphite for the production of EV power batteries in the United States.

We create high quality, high volume battery anode material from any qualified source of raw flake graphite. To reduce supply chain disruptions and alleviate geopolitical concerns, we negotiate off-take agreements and joint venture partnerships with natural graphite sources in the United States, Canada, South America, in Africa and Europe.

Our recent announcements of an application for listing on the New York Stock Exchange and the opening of a manufacturing facility in Warren, Michigan, as well as our plans to diversify our supply of raw materials, will help provide a chain of local supply of anodes for the American market.

Electrek: How Does USA Graphite Processing Alleviate Supply Chain Issues?

John DeMaio: Market analysts expect more than 200 GWh of Li-ion battery capacity for electric vehicles to come online in the United States over the next three years. Assuming that each vehicle will be powered by a 60 KWh battery, this will be enough to produce 3.3 million vehicles per year. At this rate, the industry will consume approximately 172,000 tpa of graphite, including natural and synthetic materials, to produce Li-Ion battery anodes.

The key to mitigating supply chain issues — as demanded by the industry and as evidenced by much of the Biden administration’s legislative direction — is to domesticate the supply chain as much as possible. Localizing this entire chain will not happen overnight, so it must be done smartly, in realistic steps, and with the support of industry and government.

In the field of natural graphite, the supply chain begins with extraction, then primary treatment (shaping and purification), then final treatment (coating), to supply the manufacture of batteries and electric vehicles.

Final processing facilities, such as the one Graphex announced at Warren, can be brought online relatively quickly and located close to the point of use, i.e. gigafactories, to provide a virtually customized supply just in time that has been a staple of automotive manufacturing for decades. Primary processing facilities may be co-located with finishing processing facilities or located closer to the sources, i.e. the mine(s), which may then support multiple finishing processing facilities.

The mines themselves, by definition, must be located where the material exists, so in terms of locating the supply of raw graphite in the United States, the geographically closest source is in Alabama (not yet online ), followed by Canada (minimum production until 2024-25), then Brazil (some production in progress, more planned), Mozambique (currently in production), Tanzania, Madagascar and other potential sites in Africa ( planned).

The industry is moving rapidly towards the goal of a more local supply chain for critical materials such as graphite, but with extremely high and growing demand, the way forward will be a combination of existing streams and new streams. as they come online.

Electrek: Has the global graphite deficit materialized this year as predicted by Benchmark Mineral Intelligence? If yes, how come? If not, how was it avoided?

John DeMaio: The current price development of flake graphite raw concentrate indicates that the supply and demand picture is tightening, but it does not yet reflect a deficit scenario. This is about 20% more than a year ago. While this represents a premium over last year, it does not display the price volatility associated with commodity production shortfalls.

There appear to be several micro and macro factors that add stability to the price of graphite. First, graphite is not traded on a commodity exchange, which makes it more resistant to speculation. Second, new graphite supplies have come to market, especially outside of China. Third, supply chain issues with semiconductors have placed speed bumps ahead of aggressive EV rollouts.

While supply adequately meets current demand, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence now forecasts significant shortages of raw flake graphite concentrate from 2025. At present, there is still graphite capacity available in the system, with Mozambique capable of producing up to 300,000 tons per year and a major mine. Minmetals plans to expand its Heilongjiang capacity to 600,000 tons per year, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence in March.

However, new graphite supply needs to come online quickly to meet the necessary demand for electric vehicles and in particular from sources closer to gigafactories and automakers. Rising to this challenge, we are beginning to see junior miners actively planning new graphite production, and we expect to see significant new graphite production in Canada, Brazil and across Africa over the next three years.

Read more: Graphite will be in short supply from 2022 – here’s what EV battery makers need to do to secure the critical mineral

John DeMaio is the President of the Graphene Division of Graphex Group Limited and CEO of Graphex Technologies LLC, with over 35 years of executive leadership and operational management experience in the energy and infrastructure industries. He is responsible for expanding the graphite business in the United States and Europe.

DeMaio’s previous positions include President, CEO and Board Member of JouleSmart Solutions, Managing Director of Siemens Smart Infrastructure, Vice President of MWH Global, COO of Thompson Solar Technologies and Division General Manager of SPG Solar. He holds a BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Cornell University.

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