China has transitioned into a major importer of natural graphite, increasing monthly shipments from Africa by almost 2,000 per cent since the start of 2018 to exceed 22kt in May.
Chinese imports of natural graphite (excluding low value crude material from North Korea) were less than 1ktpm prior to December 2017, though have since risen with the increasing availability of flake graphite from Mozambique and Madagascar.
Roskill’s new Natural & Synthetic Graphite: Outlook to 2028 report explores the reasons behind this sudden increase and forecasts the dynamic supply scenario for natural flake graphite over the next decade.
The report states that initially China began importing graphite from Madagascar, where several companies are looking to ramp-up production of flake graphite including the long-term producer Établissements Gallois, and companies with newly re-developed projects such as Bass Metals of Australia (Graphmada) and Tirupati Group of India (Sahamamy). Madagascar is known for production of very large size flake graphite, a size fraction for which China has relatively limited resources.
While China has large resources of battery-grade flake graphite, many of those deposits being exploited are getting deeper and more expensive to mine. Coupled with rising environmental costs and other costs of production, China is looking increasingly to foreign sources of supply.
Syrah Resources began production at its large-scale Balama flake graphite project in Mozambique in late 2017 and ramped up to more than 104kt of production in 2018; the vast majority of its shipments have been destined for the Chinese battery industry.
Roskill points out that China is the largest producer of lithium-ion batteries, the anodes for these batteries, and the anode materials on which they are based. It is also the largest supplier of flake graphite and the only commercial-scale supplier of spherical graphite – the added value product processed from flake graphite for use, almost exclusively, in lithium-ion battery anodes.
With Roskill forecasting rapid growth in the battery market, demand for raw material flake graphite in this sector is expected to grow at more than 19 per cent per year through to 2028. Although some ROW suppliers are looking to break into the spherical graphite supply chain, the focus of the battery industry will remain on China and ensure that imports of flake graphite into China for processing and onward supply into the battery industry will increase strongly over the next decade.
Existing producers continue to ramp up production in both China and the ROW but a significant amount of new supply is poised to come on-line. Roskill estimates African projects to account for 63 per cent of new planned first stage capacity that has the potential to contribute to global supply by the end of the decade. Not all of these projects will be realised, however, as there are high barriers to entry for flake graphite and, specifically, value added downstream flake products.
According to the Roskill report, “the effect of releasing such large amounts of new material into the market has placed downward pressure on the price of natural flake graphite since H2 2018.”
报告称，中国最初开始从马达加斯加进口石墨，同时期马达加斯加的几家公司正在寻求增加片状石墨产量的机会，包括长期生产商加洛伊斯（Etablissements Gallois），以及拥有澳大利亚柏斯金属（Bass Metals)和印度蒂鲁帕蒂（Tirupati Group )等新开发项目的公司。马达加斯加以生产非常大的片状石墨而闻名，而中国对这种尺寸的石墨资源则相对有限。
2017年底，西拉资源(Syrah Resources)在莫桑比克的大型Balama flake石墨项目开始投入生产，石墨产量在2018年已经超过了104万吨。该项目的绝大多数石墨都销往中国的电池行业。
|中国还是石墨的主要出口国（2018年数据）。资料来源：Tridge Market Intelligence - China is also a leading graphite exporter (2018 data). Source: Tridge Market Intelligence|
|2014年至2018年全球石墨矿产量的主要国家（以1,000公吨计）。资料来源：Statista - Major countries in worldwide graphite mine production from 2014 to 2018 (in 1,000 metric tonnes). Source: Statista|
*Article published in the October-December 2019 issue of The Asia Miner