Graphite is a critical mineral for governments in Europe and the United States, given its importance to the energy transition and high supply risk. Technologies that enable the decarbonization of transport and steel production, i.e., electric vehicles and electric arc furnaces, rely heavily on a consistent supply of high-quality graphite, leading to an exponential growth in the demand for graphite over the coming decades. Currently, 80% of the global supply of natural and synthetic graphite comes from China.
There are two types of graphite: natural and synthetic graphite. Whilst natural graphite can be mined in multiple jurisdictions worldwide, the synthetic type has a narrower supply base. Due to its artificial origin and predictable consistency and characteristics, synthetic graphite has been preferred over natural graphite. However, its production is expensive, energy-intensive, and environmentally harmful. The use of synthetic graphite in ‘green energy’ technologies is highly problematic from an environmental, social, and governance perspective.
The processing of natural graphite is becoming increasingly popular due to new and sustainable production processes and the potential to scale up in regions outside of China, which currently dominates the production and supply of processed graphite. Natural flake graphite mines exist in African countries like Mozambique and European countries like Ukraine and Norway. Companies in the European Union (EU) and the US have developed cleaner methods to process natural flake graphite in an environmentally responsible and economically efficient manner. Producing countries in Africa, the EU and the US are in a unique position to bring together their capital, knowledge and raw materials and set up a solid supply chain that meets environmental and social standards, and that secures the graphite supplies required for the energy transition. Government initiatives could incubate an eco-system that reduces investment risks, increase public acceptance of industrial processes, and scale processing capacity at home.
This paper by Jeff Amrish Ritoe, Irina Patrahau and Michel Rademakeranalyses the practical, geopolitical and environmental challenges of sourcing graphite, and provides recommendations of how the European Union and the US can mitigate supply risks in the next decades.