July 24, 2023
This article is the first installment of a series where we’ll explore the solutions to our country’s increasing demand for graphite.
Graphite is known to be one of the least-discussed, and most sought-after, critical minerals of our time. The Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy predicts that through 2050, graphite will have a “100-fold increase in demand” (Glynn & Lee, 2023). Most of us know pencil lead requires graphite, but more technical uses for the material are in batteries, nuclear reactors, small electronics, bio-medical devices, and more as potential new applications emerge. It’s an extremely versatile mineral resource and now one of the 50 mineral commodities included on USGS’s list of critical minerals.
Something you might be hearing about more than ever is the rapid market growth of electric vehicles (EVs). This is due to three main factors: Rise of consumer demand (caused by environmental concerns, greater vehicle choice, improved battery capacity, and cost savings), Government policies driving demand for EVs (passage of the IIJA, tax credits, state policies), and automaker commitments to EV production.
The tricky part of this story is the sheer amount of graphite needed in America to sustain the growth of the demand for EVs and all the other products that require graphite. When we talk about an EV battery in it’s entirety, “graphite is about 25% to 28% of the whole thing (White, 2023).” While a mixture of natural and synthetic graphite is typically used to produce anode batteries, synthetic graphite is incredibly expensive and less energy-efficient.
Considering the United States consumed 354,000 tons of processed graphite in 2018, and the United States hasn’t produced its own graphite since the 1950s, we’re going to need a lot more of the material in the coming years. This begs the question: “where is all of that graphite going to come from?” The good news: there’s a solution to America’s graphite shortage right here in Alaska, but more on that later. The bad news: China has entered the chat.
The majority of all graphite (68%) is mined in China, with the rest being mined in Mozambique, Brazil, Madagascar and Canada. And we know, when one country dominates the market for any product, uncertainty arises with pricing, supply, quality, and efficiency. This is why domestically mining and manufacturing graphite is key to a successful energy expansion – a reliable supply chain is the key to churning out a large quantity of EVs and other clean technologies.
Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we dive into some proposed solutions in and out of Alaska for the demand for graphite.
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