Graphite is an allotrope of carbon with crystalline structure and has both metallic and non- metallic properties. Metallic properties of graphite include thermal and electrical conductivity and the non-metallic properties include lubricity, chemical inertness, and thermal resistance. Furthermore, there are two grades of graphite available, including high-purity & high-cost synthetic graphite, and lower-cost-purity natural graphite. Mining of the natural graphite often requires various mineral processing such as froth flotation to increase the graphite concentration, as mined natural graphite often contains other minerals. Natural graphite has excellent electrical and heat conductivity and is a high refractory material. Refractories for the steel industry is a major market for natural graphite. Furthermore, synthetic graphite is produced using raw materials such as petroleum coke and tar pitch with higher purity as compared to natural graphite. It has higher porosity, lower density and higher electrical resistance. Synthetic graphite are majorly used as moderator rods in nuclear power plants, electrodes for metallurgical processing and electrical furnaces, and in the manufacturing of batteries and carbon brushes.
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Growing application of graphite in the automotive industry including graphite filament and in the production of various components where graphite is used as a core material such as motors, disk brake linings & pads, cylinder heads, exhaust systems, and gaskets is fuelling growth of the market. Graphite is extensively used as an active anode material in lithium-ion batteries and the growing demand for advanced energy storage products such as lithium-ion batteries is aiding in growth of the graphite market as well. According to the Coherent Market Insights’ analysis, the global advanced energy storage market was valued at US$ 11.79 billion in 2016 and is expected to exhibit a CAGR of 8.88% during 2017–2025. Moreover, rising demand for ultra-lightweight materials in aircraft components such as carbon-fiber reinforced polymers (CFRP), is aiding in growth of graphite market, as graphite is majorly used in the production of CFRPs. According to the Clean Energy Manufacturing Analysis Center (CEMAC), in 2012, demand for carbon fiber end products was highest in Europe and was estimated to be 16,650 tons, which was 37% of the world’s total demand for carbon fiber end products. Additionally, growing application of graphite in fuel cells and nuclear energy is expected to boost growth of the graphite market during the forecast period.
In terms of revenue, Asia Pacific is expected to be the fastest growing market for graphite during the forecast period. Rapid industrialization in emerging economies including India and China is fuelling demand for graphite in the region, as graphite is used in a wide range of industries such as automotive, chemical, and nuclear. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), China was the leading country in the world mine production of graphite in 2012 and in 2016, China was projected as the largest supplier of flake and amorphous grades of natural graphite and accounted for around 68% of the global graphite production. Furthermore, rising fuel prices, steadily growing awareness regarding eco-friendly electrical vehicles with graphite using li-ion batteries is fuelling growth of the market in the region. According to the data by Asia Pacific Economic Corporation (APEC) in 2017, Asia Pacific is the largest new vehicle market in the world and the largest emerging market in the new energy vehicles (NEVs). Furthermore, Chinese government is supporting and promoting use of new energy vehicles, owing to rising concerns regarding air pollutants through vehicles and the country has set the target of having 5 million plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) and battery- electric vehicles on the road by 2020. This in turn, fuelling growth of the graphite market in the region.
In 2017, North America accounted for significant share in the global graphite market with U.S. being the major contributor. However, graphite mining had faced stagnation and has not been mined in the country since 1990’s, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). As a result, the U.S. now imports graphite from countries such as China, Canada, Brazil, and Mexico, to cater to growing demand for graphite in the country. According to the USGS, in 2015, the U.S. imported 47 thousand metric tons and consumed 24,200 tons of natural graphite valued at US$ 25.60 Mn, in 2016. Furthermore, high demand for computers, smart phones, mobile devices, and other electronic products with battery containing graphite is driving growth of the market. According to the United States Department of Commerce, shipments for the computer and electronic products from U.S. manufacturing sector was valued at US$ 5.7 trillion in 2012.
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Key Players and Business Strategies
Major players operating in the global graphite market include GrafTech International Ltd., AMG Advanced Metallurgical Group N.V., HEG Ltd, Graphite India Limited, Tokai Carbon Co. Ltd., Toyo Tanso Company Ltd., Showa Denko K.K., SEC Carbon Ltd., Mason Graphite Inc., Triton Minerals Ltd., and Northern Graphite Corporation.
Key players are adopting various business strategies such as product development, strategic collaborations, and mergers & acquisitions, in order to retain their market share. For instance, in November 2017, the Tokai Carbon Company Ltd. acquired the U.S. subsidiary, SGL GE Holding GmbH, which is involved in the manufacturing of graphite electrodes. The acquisition is anticipated to enhance the company’s business in North America region.