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American Resources Policy Network
Promoting the development of American mineral resources.
  • Move Over, Lithium and Cobalt, Graphite and Graphene are About to Take Center Stage – Courtesy of the Ongoing Materials Science Revolution

    Earlier this week, we pointed to what we called the “new kid on the block” in battery tech – Vanadium.  It appears that what held true for music, is true in this industry as well – new kids on the block arrive in groups.

    Now, all puns aside – as Molly Lempriere writes for Mining-Technology.com, “much has been made of battery minerals, in particular lithium and cobalt. But graphite, one of three naturally occurring carbons on Earth, is often overlooked.” And with Graphite, comes its derivative, Graphene.

    While Graphite has indeed been flying under the radar, this may change, soon. With as much as 40 times the amount of Graphite in a Lithium-Ion battery as Lithium, demand for the Graphite may increase by an estimated 200% by 2020.  Add to that the fact that super-material Graphene, which is derived from Graphite, is now making an entry into the battery tech field, and demand may take off even more. Writes Lempriere:

    “Over the past eight years, an increasing number of potential uses for graphene have been explored, including its use in supercapacitors and as a membrane for filtration.

    Graphene is capable of transferring electricity 140 times faster than lithium, while being 100 times lighter than aluminium. This means it could increase the power density of a standard Li-ion battery by 45%.”

    As Lempriere outlines, a lack of standardization has so far held back the commercialization of Graphene. With the first Graphene characterization service launched in the United Kingdom in July of this year, this barrier may have been removed, and “a clear framework” could “ease sales of the commodity by ensuring purchase agreements are fair for both buyers ad sellers.”

    Meanwhile, the ongoing revolution in materials science is continuing to yield improvements in the processing of Graphite, thus making the material earn its stripes as a “critical mineral” – a designation the Graphite has earned in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

    According to USGS:

    “Advances in thermal technology and acid-leaching techniques that enable the production of higher purity graphite powders are likely to lead to development of new applications for graphite in high-technology fields. Such innovative refining techniques have enabled the use of improved graphite in carbon-graphite composites, electronics, foils, friction materials, and specialty lubricant applications. Flexible graphite product lines, such as graphoil (a thin graphite cloth), are likely to be the fastest growing market. Large-scale fuel-cell applications are being developed that could consume as much graphite as all other uses combined.”

    If these trend lines continue – and a look at the neck-breaking speed of the materials science revolution tells us there is a very good chance they will – the bottom line is that if Graphite and Graphene are not yet on your radar, they should be.

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  • Moores’ Law: The Rise of Lithium Ion Battery Megafactories and What it Means for Critical Mineral Resource Supply

    Earlier this month, Simon Moores, Managing Director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence and member of the ARPN panel of experts testified before the full U.S. Senate Energy Committee on opportunities and risks in the energy storage supply chain.  

    We’re titling his observations as Moores’ Law — which is his for the taking, given the placement of the apostrophe. If he hasn’t used it yet, he should.
     While we already featured Moores’ top line points regarding the rise of Lithium Ion megafactories (also see the chart), we would be remiss if we didn’t share some of his takeaways on the implications for the main critical raw material inputs for this technology – namely Lithium, Graphite, Cobalt, and Nickel — and add some additional thoughts. 

    Lithium

    • For Lithium carbonate and Lithium hydroxide, the “base chemicals that the battery industry seeks,” Benchmark Mineral Intelligence sees a 10-fold increase in the industry’s demand profile over a ten-year timeframe. Lithium is largely sourced from Chile, Argentina and Australia, and is processed into battery grade in the U.S. and China. 

    • Meanwhile, in a recent op-ed for the Reno Gazette Journal, professor emeritus of mining engineering at the University of Nevada, Jaak Daemen, citing an even higher demand profile increase for Lithium, argued that with only one Lithium mine in the U.S., the United States is unprepared to meet demand with the main problem not being the lack of resources, but “a regulatory approach that endlessly delays bringing mines in production.” 

    Graphite

    • Lithium Ion technology uses both naturally mined flake Graphite as well as synthetic Graphite, in which the former accounts for roughly 60% of inputs, and the latter for roughly 40%. According to Moores’s testimony, China dominates natural flake mining at 62% of global production in 2016, followed by Brazil at 23%.  A similar scenario unfolds for refining, most of which also takes place in China. 

    • According to Moores, “[w]hile large flake graphite mines are being developed outside of China in Mozambique, Canada and the US, processing capacity to make anode material is still lagging.”

    • As we previously highlighted, the U.S. currently produces zero Graphite, with the last American Graphite mine having closed 25 years ago. 

    • As Moores points out, however, two Graphite companies are currently seeking to mine and process flake graphite for battery grade material in the U.S., so there is hope the supply picture will change domestically.

    Cobalt

    • According to Moores, 64% of the Cobalt consumed globally in 2016 was mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with China dominating the “refining step in the supply chain with 57% of global capacity.”

    • With Cobalt also being a Co-Product to Gateway Minerals like Copper and Nickel, Moores argues that “the fortunes of Cobalt – now driven by battery demand – is still at the mercy of Nickel and Copper commodities which is drive by industrial demand. This is causing long term planning issues for the EV supply chain.”

    • You can read ARPN’s latest blog item on Cobalt here

    Nickel

    • With advances in battery technology and changing formulas, Moores sees battery grade Nickel demand grow “from 75,000 tpa in 2016 to anywhere between 300-400,000 tpa by 2025.” 

    • Nickel production is in the million of tons a year, and from a U.S. point of view, the supply picture recently changed with our import dependence dropping from roughly 50 percent to currently 25 percent with new domestic projects having come online.  

    • However, as Moores points out, “the battery grade chemical material is specialist with only a handful of major producers outside of China.”

    Ultimately, this is food for thought for any discussion regarding the comprehensive mineral resource strategy our nation sorely needs.

    Says Moores:

    “Where we stand today in 2017, China is not only a the center of mass market EV development and deployment but also of cathode production, battery grade raw material refining and the building of the new battery cell capacity.  Those that control raw material and chemical / cathode refining know how and capacity will control the lithium ion battery supply chain. And those that control the lithium ion battery supply chain will be the biggest influencers on the next generation auto and energy industries.”

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  • Graphene-fed Spiders and Our Web of Resource Dependencies 

    A material long hailed as being on the cutting edge of materials science, Graphene is making headlines again. And, fitting for fall and people gearing up for Halloween, it involves everyone’s favorite creepy crawlies – arachnids.  Researchers at the University of Trento in Italy have found that spiders fed with graphene and carbon nanotubes, which [...]
  • Minerals don’t just fuel domestic industries, but also a stronger U.S. trade balance

    ARPN followers are used to our coverage of metals and minerals shortages, and the need to develop more sources of domestic supply.  But the value of U.S.-produced minerals is best evidenced in the ability to meet global needs.  Take borates, one of the relatively few minerals where the U.S. is a net exporter. The issue [...]
  • Europe to launch ambitious graphene research and innovation initiative

    With the launch of its Graphene Flagship project last week, the European Union is embarking on one of its most ambitious science projects ever – and is trying to get out in front of a growing rush to harness graphene’s vast potential. A single layer of carbon atoms, graphene has been called a new “wonder [...]
  • Graphite to play major role in coming materials revolution

    We have had a fair amount of graphite- and graphene-related coverage on our blog in recent months – but for good reason. As analyst Byron King argues, graphite, as one of the primary carbon raw materials in a naturally occurring form, and allotropes of carbon, such as graphite nanotubes and graphene, will play a major [...]
  • Graphene’s pioneers battle global hype

    There has been much hype surrounding what has been described as the world’s wonder material – graphene. It is (theoretically) stronger than steel, more conductive than copper and incredibly flexible. Graphene is a one atom layer of carbon, a truly two-dimensional material. One mining company described it as “graphite, unfolded”. On the face of it [...]
  • As graphite demand increases, geopolitical dimension becomes more apparent

    ProEdgeWire’s Graphite and Graphene Weekly Review sees surging demand for graphite and its derivative graphene, not least because of their important role in battery technology, where graphite continues to be a traditional component, while graphene is considered a major factor in future generation batteries. Recent reports of aircraft batteries catching fire won’t change that – [...]
  • EV uncertainty dominates discussion at Graphite Conference – Part 2

    This is the second of a two-part post by American Resources Expert Simon Moores and his Industrial Minerals colleague, Andy Miller. Read Part One here.   2013 rebound after poor year 2012 has been a poor year for graphite demand. Trading activity has been sapped out of the industry since September with little sign of [...]
  • American Resources experts to speak at international graphite conference

    American Resources Principal Daniel McGroarty will speak alongside fellow American Resources expert and Manager for Industrial Minerals Data, Simon Moores, at Industrial Minerals’ 2nd Graphite Conference 2012 in early December. In light of its traditional uses, its importance for the new Li-ion technology, and the ostensibly endless potential applications for the “new super material graphene,” [...]

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