GRAPHITE

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Introducing iTech’s plan for becoming a producer of “green“ graphite for the battery market. (2:40)

THE BASICS

Graphite is a soft form of carbon that is found as crystal flakes or as a mass. It is one of three naturally existing forms of carbon, which also include coal and diamond. Although each form has the same chemical formula, they have very different properties.

Graphite is unique because it is an exceptional conductor of heat and electricity, maintains its strength at high temperatures, and is resistant to corrosion. These properties make it an important material in a wide range metallurgical and electronic applications.

REFINED GRAPHITE

Graphite is often processed for use in highly specialised applications.
  • Spherical graphite is more commonly known as battery-grade graphite. It is used in the production of anodes in lithium-ion batteries. It is made by refining flake graphite concentrate into ultra-high purity (>99.95% C), microscopic spheres (15 to 5 microns).
  • Graphene is made by breaking down graphite flakes into individual one atom thick sheets of carbon. Since it was first created by scientists in 2004 it has been hailed as “miracle material” because it is not only one of the lightest, strongest and thinnest materials ever discovered, but also one of the best known conductors of heat and electricity.

THE POTENTIAL FOR GRAPHENE

Graphene is a made up of a single flat, honeycomb layer of carbon – just one atom thick. While the bonds between layers of carbon in a normal piece of graphite can be easily broken, the single layer (or graphene) is tightly bonded and therefore incredibly strong. Because of its remarkable properties it could create an impact of the scale last seen with the Industrial Revolution.

  • Graphene is the world’s first 2D material and is one million times thinner than the diameter of a single human hair.
  • Graphene is the strongest material discovered to date. It is 10x lighter and over 100x stronger than steel.
  • Graphene can be stretched by an amazing 25% percent without breaking.
  • Graphene is transparent.
  • Graphene is better at carrying heat than many metals — including silver and copper.
  • Graphene conducts electricity more efficiently than copper. In fact, it is almost as good as some superconductors. Importantly, unlike superconductors, which need to be cooled to low temperatures, graphene’s exceptional conductivity works even at room temperature.

What does this mean for the future?

Scientists are still dreaming up uses for this strong, light, transparent and relatively inexpensive material that can conduct electricity. It is currently being heavily researched in a number of fields including transport, electronics, energy, defence, desalination and medicine.

Imagine a smartphone that can be charged in seconds and rolled up like a newspaper, lightweight wearable sensors that can be used to monitor patients in hospitals, stronger, rust-free materials that are used to make cars and planes, or packaging that can keep food and water cleaner for longer. Graphene may be the key a huge range of future technologies.

APPLICATIONS

CURRENT

Graphite has a unique ability to conduct electricity and retain strength and rigidity under temperatures exceeding 3600 °C, giving it hundreds of applications in manufacturing, metallurgy and electronics. This includes a wide variety of uses like batteries, thermal management in electronics, fire bricks that line furnaces, brake pads, and even as a lubricant.

EMERGING

Graphite is a key material in the emerging renewable energy and battery metal markets. It is currently used in the anodes of all the major battery technologies – including the ones used in electric vehicles. In fact, each electric car battery needs between 40 – 60 kilograms of graphite, which is up to 40x more than the amount of lithium required. This has led to Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, famously saying that lithium-ion batteries “should be called Nickel-Graphite, because primarily the cathode is nickel and the anode side is graphite with silicon oxide… [there’s] a little bit of lithium in there, but it’s like the salt on the salad.” 

The potential applications of graphene are only starting to emerge, and it is impossible to guess just how important this material will be in the coming decades. It is currently being used to develop new technology for in the fields of transport, electronics, energy, defence, desalination, and medicine. Some of the most exciting breakthroughs so far are in the development of incredibly light and tough composite materials, flexible sensors, and screens, as well as the world’s smallest transistor which could hold the key to smaller and faster electronics.
Leading tennis brand Head now uses “Graphene 360+ technology” in its top tennis racquets.

THE CHALLENGE OF PRODUCING ‘GREEN’ GRAPHITE
FOR THE GREEN ENERGY REVOLUTION

To be suitable for the battery market graphite flakes must be refined to 99.5% purity and ground up into a specialised form – known as spherical graphite. This process presents two major challenges for producers. Firstly grinding the flakes into the tiny balls requires a lot of electricity. Secondly the current process for removing the last of the impurities includes using Hydrofluoric acid. This acid is extremely effective because it dissolves just about anything – except for graphite. But it’s also incredibly toxic and has to be neutralised and disposed of after every use, posing a massive environmental headache. iTech Minerals is currently working on a plan to use the abundance of renewable energy options in close proximity to the Campoona Graphite Deposit to power the project, as well as undertaking a research project with industry leaders ANZAPLAN to develop a new process for refining Graphite ore. This would result in a potentially cheaper, premium, carbon-neutral, acid-free graphite product.

THE GEOLOGY

When carbon in the ground is subjected to extreme heat and pressure it is transformed into several different minerals, depending on the exact conditions. The most famous is diamonds, which are formed deep in the earth’s mantle under incredible pressures. Graphite occurs in the Earth’s crust and in the upper mantle. It requires pressures in the range of 75,000 pounds per square inch and temperatures of 750 degrees Celsius to be produced. Graphite is found in three different forms; in high-grade metamorphic rocks as crystal flakes, in veins or fractures as vein graphite, and in thermally metamorphosed coal deposits as amorphous graphite. Most exploration projects target crystalline flake deposits near the surface because they can be mined by open pit methods and are not as expensive as the underground mining techniques required to recover vein graphite.
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iTech Minerals Campoona Graphite Project is a defined resource with a Global Mineral Resource of 8.55 million tonnes at 9.0% TGC (total graphite content) on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, a first world mining jurisdiction.

MARKETS

Graphite is not traded on a traditional commodity exchange like gold or copper. Its pricing is based on offtake agreements, which are direct negotiations between buyers and sellers. The final price comes down to a range of factors including purity, crystallinity, size (also known as mesh), and level of processing. Generally, flake graphite with +80 mesh and graphitic carbon content over 95% commands the highest prices. Graphite that has been processed into spherical graphite or battery grade graphite commands a significant premium and can cost up to three times more than lower grade products. 

GRAPHITE AND THE BATTERY METAL MARKET

Graphite is a key player in the expanding battery metals market. Currently, the lithium-ion battery market consumes about 25% of global graphite supplies, however this figure is expected to grow over the next decade. In fact to simply meet the needs of the currently announced investments by battery and car manufacturers, graphite production will need to double in the next five years.

Some researchers estimate that the market for batteries could reach as high as US$400 billion by 2030. According to Benchmark Minerals the cost of producing the lithium-ion battery’s anode makes up around 30% of the entire manufacturing cost and with a up to half of that amount going toward the cost of graphite, producers could end up with a 15% slice of the entire battery market’s manufacturing outlay.

As a result of this growing importance graphite has recently been a critical mineral by both the European Union and United States. With China currently controlling over 70% of the world’s graphite supply, there is a growing interest in developing alternative sources of graphite and minimising possible supply chain risks.

WHY iTECH MINERALS?

iTech owns 100% of the Campoona Graphite Project, which is a significantly de-risked, advanced development opportunity in a first world mining jurisdiction that is set to capitalise on the growing appetite for graphite.

The project has a historical Global Mineral Resource of 8.55 million tonnes at 9.0% TGC across three deposits on Eyre Peninsula, South Australia. iTech has a mining lease and two licences for the processing of graphite and the transport of processing water from the nearby bore field have been granted.

On 16 September 2016, Archer Materials released to ASX the results of a positive scoping study for the Campoona Graphite Project.

Since taking on the Project in 2021, iTech Mineral has conducted a number of extensive drill campaigns at the Sugar Loaf and Lacroma Prospects with the aim of adding to the Global resource at Campoona.

Adding Value

In 2019, Archer Materials demonstrated that small-scale mechanical mill processing of Campoona’s flake graphite could readily produce spherical graphite for the battery markets with a 95–99%+ conversion rate.

In 2023 iTech replicated these findings with a larger run of mine sample. 

iTech has also engaged a number of scientific partners to conduct metallurgical test work on samples form Lacroma and Sugarloaf. 

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