The mineral graphite, as an anode material, is 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 learn what he had to say about why graphite’s so important for EVs, what his company is doing to ramp up US sourcing and processing, and what the graphite supply is expected to be in the next couple years.
Electrek: Why is graphite so important for EV battery makers?
John DeMaio: EV batteries contain four basic components: anode, cathode, electrolyte, and separator. While there is much focus on the cathode materials – lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, etc. – the predominant anode material used in virtually all EV batteries is graphite.
Overall, EV Li-ion batteries contain about 28% graphite by weight. As both an extremely effective conductor and readily available material, graphite is particularly suitable for Li-ion batteries, as the spaces within the crystal lattice of graphite is suitable for hosting Li-ions in order to store energy in a charged battery, a process known as intercalation. Therefore, if EV battery makers are to meet the burgeoning demand for EVs, a dependable and plentiful supply of specialized graphite is important.
Electrek: What does your company, Graphex, do, and what is its strategy to escalate the sourcing and processing of graphite?
John DeMaio: Graphex performs the mid-stream processing of natural graphite into specialized graphite used in EV batteries. Historically, 70-80% of the natural graphite used in EV batteries has been sourced in China, and almost all midstream processing of graphite has been done in China/Asia.
Graphex has been a significant supplier of coated purified spherical graphite since 2013, primarily into the power battery markets in China. In 2021, Graphex established a subsidiary to localize graphite supply for EV power battery production in the US.
We create consistently high-quality and high-volume battery anode material from any qualified source of raw flake graphite. In order to reduce supply chain interruptions and mitigate geopolitical concerns, we are negotiating offtake agreements and joint venture partnerships with natural graphite sources in the US, Canada, South America, Africa, and Europe.
Our recent announcements to seek listing on NYSE and open a manufacturing plant in Warren, Michigan, along with our plans to diversify our raw material supply, will help provide a local supply anode supply chain for the US market.
Electrek: How does processing graphite in the US alleviate supply chain problems?
John DeMaio: Market analysts expect that over 200 GWh of EV Li-ion battery capacity will be online in the US within the next three years. Assuming each vehicle will be powered by a 60 KWh battery, this will be sufficient to produce 3.3 million vehicles per year. At this rate, the industry will be consuming about 172,000 tpa of graphite, including both natural and synthetic material, for producing Li-Ion battery anodes.
The key to alleviating supply chain concerns – as demanded by the industry and as reflected in much of the legislative focus of the Biden administration – is to domesticate as much of the supply chain as possible. Localizing that entire chain will not happen overnight, so it must be done intelligently, in realistic steps, and with support from industry and government.
In the natural graphite realm, the supply chain begins with mining, then primary processing (shaping and purifying), then final processing (coating), to supply battery and EV manufacturing.
Final processing facilities, such as the one Graphex has announced in Warren, can be brought online relatively quickly and located near to point-of-use, i.e., gigafactories, to provide virtually custom just-in-time supply that has been a staple of auto manufacturing for decades. The primary processing facilities can be co-located with the finish processing facilities or located closer to the sources, i.e, the mine(s), which can then support several finish processing facilities.
The mines themselves, by definition, must be located where the material exists, so in terms of localizing raw graphite supply in the US, the closest source geographically is in Alabama (not online yet), followed by Canada (minimal production until 2024-25), then Brazil (some current production, more planned), Mozambique (currently in production), Tanzania, Madagascar, and other potential locations in Africa (planned).
The industry is moving quickly to achieve the objective of a more local supply chain of critical materials such as graphite, but with demand extremely high and increasing, the path forward will be a combination of existing streams and new streams as they come online.
Electrek: Has the global graphite deficit come to fruition this year as was predicted by Benchmark Mineral Intelligence? If so, how come? If not, how was it avoided?
John DeMaio: The current price action in raw flake graphite concentrate indicates that the supply-demand picture is tightening but it is not yet reflective of a deficit scenario. It’s approximately 20% higher than a year ago. While this represents a premium to last year, it is not displaying the price volatility associated with commodity production shortfalls.
There appears to be several micro and macroeconomic factors that are adding stability to graphite pricing. One, graphite is not traded on a commodities exchange, which makes it more resilient to speculation. Two, there’s been new graphite supply coming to the market, in particular outside China. Three, supply-chain issues with semiconductors have placed some speed bumps ahead of aggressive EV rollouts.
While supply is adequately servicing current demand, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence is now forecasting significant raw flake graphite concentrate shortfalls from 2025. At present, there is still available graphite capacity in the system, with Mozambique capable of producing up to 300,000 tons per annum and mining major Minmetals planning to expand its Heilongjiang capacity to 600,000 tons per annum, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence in March.
However, new graphite supply needs to be brought online quickly to meet the necessary demand for EVs and particularly sources closer to the 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 output in Canada, Brazil, and across Africa in the next three years.
Read more: Graphite will be in deficit 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 the CEO of Graphex Technologies LLC, with over 35 years of experience in executive leadership and operational management in the energy and infrastructure sectors. He is responsible for the expansion of the graphite business into the US and Europe.
DeMaio’s previous positions include president, CEO, and board member of JouleSmart Solutions, general manager 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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