The very name of the gray-black mineral indicates that interest in graphite was originally limited to its properties as a writing material. But graphite is much more. As an important industrial mineral, graphite is needed in many industries and is becoming increasingly important, especially for the production of lithium-ion batteries.
The mineral was discovered in the 18th century by the German mineralogist Abraham Gottlob Werner. Especially the suitability as a writing material caught the eye after the discovery of graphite. Due to this, the mineral received the name graphite derived from the Greek term graphein (to write).
Just like diamonds, graphite consists of pure carbon. But while diamond has a Mohs hardness of 10, making it the hardest mineral of all, graphite has a density of only 2.1 to 2.3 grams per cubic centimeter. It is precisely this property that makes graphite an indispensable and important raw material in many industries.
The world’s graphite deposits
Graphite deposits exist on all continents. Among them are also many deposits worth mining. It is believed that there are still graphite reserves of around 320 million tons worldwide. Turkey has the largest reserve of raw materials at around 90 million tons. This corresponds to about 36 percent of the world’s graphite reserves.
Brazil also has large graphite deposits of 72 million tons. China is at least currently the country with the third-largest graphite reserves, accounting for only one-fifth of the world’s supply. Nevertheless, China accounts for more than 65 percent of annual global graphite consumption. Other large deposits are located in India and Mozambique.
Probably the best known use of the gray-black mineral is its use as a pencil lead. But graphite is also an important industrial mineral that is needed in many industries.
Graphite is used, for example, in the production of lubricants and paints and in reactor technology. It also plays an important role in the electrical industry and in the steel industry for the production of crucibles and casting molds. Graphite is also indispensable and increasingly important, especially for the production of lithium-ion batteries.
Graphite can be produced synthetically
Since the end of the 19th century, it has been technically possible to produce graphite synthetically. Since then, artificially produced graphite has become increasingly important, especially in mechanical engineering. Just like the natural mineral, it is excellent as an additive in lubricants, giving them better lubricity.
Since the mineral can be produced synthetically, graphite, unlike many other raw materials, is not recycled.
However, not all industries can rely on synthetic graphite, so mining the mineral is still necessary to meet graphite demand. However, resources are by no means as scarce for graphite as they are for many other natural raw materials.