Graphite is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity and also has the highest strength of any natural material. However, it wasn’t until recently that the metal began to gain popularity.
Interest in graphite mining is increasing in large part because lithium-ion batteries are becoming more common. These batteries are used in everything from phones to electric vehicles (EVs), and graphite is one of their key raw materials. As lithium-ion battery demand grows, graphite demand is also expected to rise from nations around the world.
In fact, despite discussions on changes in lithium-ion battery chemistry, many experts think graphite will remain a key raw material in EV batteries for at least the next decade. Both synthetic and natural graphite, in the form of the intermediate product spherical graphite, are products that are used in the anodes of lithium-ion batteries.
According to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, demand for graphite from the battery anode segment is set to experience significant growth as surging electric car sales and the energy storage trend continue.
Looking at supply, China consistently ranks in the top spot for graphite production, with Madagascar and Mozambique coming in second and third, respectively. For any investor following the sector, it will come as no surprise that the Asian country is leading the way — China is known to dominate both the mining and refining sides of the graphite market.
In terms of pricing, different graphite types command different prices, and also have different end uses. However, in general, supply constraints paired with increasing demand from the battery sector have helped natural graphite prices in the past few years, despite several rounds of downward price readjustments.
Read on for a look at the top graphite-producing countries of 2022. All stats are based on the most recent data from the US Geological Survey.
Mine production: 850,000 MT
As mentioned, China was the world’s largest graphite producer in 2022. It put out 850,000 metric tons (MT) of the metal, significantly higher than the amount it produced in the previous three years. According to the US Geological Survey, the country accounted for 65 percent of world graphite mining last year.
China’s stranglehold on the graphite market was strengthened by its quick graphite production recovery after COVID-19 shutdowns. Around three-quarters of its 2022 graphite production was flake, much of which ‘was very small, in the +200-mesh range,’ notes the US Geological Survey. ‘China also processed most of the world’s spherical graphite.’
Mine production: 170,000 MT
Madagascar produced much more graphite in 2022 than it has in previous years, rising from the fifth spot in 2021 to rank as the second largest graphite-producing country last year. The African nation also has the fourth largest graphite reserves. The US Geological Survey states that large graphite deposits are being developed in this island country.
Growth in Madagascar’s graphite-mining industry is being aided by developing projects. For example, NextSource Materials’ (TSX:NEXT,OTCQB:NSRCF) Molo graphite mine began commercial production of its SuperFlake graphite concentrate in June 2023 after initiating plant commissioning in March. The company is now focused on ramping up plant throughput to its nameplate capacity of 17,000 MT per annum.
Mine production: 110,000 MT
Mozambique takes the third spot on the list with graphite output of 110,000 MT in 2022. The country is home to two main graphite miners: Syrah Resources (ASX:SYR,OTC Pink:SYAAF) and Triton Minerals (ASX:TON). Sydney-based Syrah Resources’ Balama project is the world’s largest integrated natural graphite-mining and processing operation.
The US Geological Survey states that ‘Africa has been a recent focus for graphite exploration, with projects under development in Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, and Tanzania.’
Mine production: 87,000 MT
Brazil was the world’s second largest graphite producer in 2021 with output of 82,000 MT during the period. Brazil’s 2022 graphite-mining output increased by 5,000 MT from 2021; however, it wasn’t enough for the South America nation to hang onto its second place status as Madagascar and Mozambique saw much larger gains in their graphite output.
Brazil has the second highest graphite reserves by country and is the third most important battery metals jurisdiction in the world. Little information is available about the Brazilian graphite-mining industry, as the country’s top producers of the metal are private. However, the nation has become a hot spot for graphite exploration and development. One project is South Star Battery Metals’ (TSXV:STS,OTCQB:STSBF) Santa Cruz large-flake graphite property, where Phase 1 construction is underway and commercial production is planned for the fourth quarter of 2023.
5. South Korea
Mine production: 17,000 MT
South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, made it onto this list of the top graphite-producing countries by increasing its output of the metal from 10,500 MT of graphite in 2021 to 17,000 MT in 2022.
The rise in graphite production is in line with the South Korean government’s goal of becoming a leader in the global EV battery market and transitioning away from reliance on China for its graphite requirements.
Mine production: 15,000 MT
In 2022, Russia and Canada tied for the title of sixth largest graphite producer. Russia’s graphite output remained flat from its 2021 level. Previous to its war with Ukraine, the country was expected to significantly increase its production during the next several years due to the implementation of two investment projects, Dalgraphite and Uralgraphite.
Mine production: 15,000 MT
Canada’s graphite production rose by 3,000 MT in 2022 over the previous year. Interest in Canada as a source of graphite has been rising for the past few years, particularly since Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) said it plans to source the lithium, graphite and cobalt it needs for its Nevada-based lithium-ion battery gigafactory from North America. The Lac des Iles mine is the only mine in Canada that is producing graphite, but there are a number of graphite projects under development.
Mine production: 10,000 MT
Norway’s graphite output rose from 6,290 MT in 2021 to 10,000 MT in 2022.
All graphite deposits in the country contain flake graphite and are generally low tonnage. That said, many are in favorable locations — for example, close to the sea or to the electrical grid.
Mine production: 8,300 MT
India’s graphite output last year came to 8,300 MT, a jump of 1,300 MT over 2021’s amount. The country’s reserves vary widely from state to state, with Arunachal Pradesh holding nearly half of India’s graphite reserves.
The graphite-mining country has eight main producers, including Tirupati Carbons & Chemicals, Chotanagpur Graphite Industries and Carbon & Graphite Products. HEG (NSE:HEG,BSE:509631) is a leading, although small-scale, graphite electrode producer.
10. North Korea
Mine production: 8,100 MT
North Korea’s total graphite output last year came to 8,100 MT, the same amount it put out in 2021. The country’s reserves of the commodity stand at 1.8 million MT. Little further information is available on graphite mining in North Korea.
Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.