Australia is being urged to join emerging global supply opportunities for the carbon-based commodity graphite.

Graphite explorer and developer Archer Exploration says new technologies and an internal crackdown on graphite exports by China has increased consumption of the mineral.

Archer is one of just three owners of graphite resources in Australia which is noticing the global graphite supply concerns brought about by the current market conditions.

Archer’s managing director Gerard Anderson says the supply issues are being exacerbated by the lack of exploration for graphite globally and the lack of new graphite mine developments.

He says the graphite demand is surging above the traditional uses of the mineral in auto parts, batteries and oils and greases.

Graphite is now being used in high tech, high value strategic applications in electronics, computers, ceramics and super high strength composites in aircraft and automotive production. It has also been used in a new derivative called ‘graphene’ which is an atom thick carbon-based material with exceptional physical and chemical properties for use in computer chips, optics, electronics, laser and sensing products.

“Significantly, the lithium-ion battery market is having a major impact on the graphite market, especially for the prized flake graphite as the demand for mobile energy storage systems increases,” Gerard Anderson said.

“This is no better exampled than in the current giant US auto market where latest estimates point to 64% of all American cars being electric as soon as 2030. Some of these greener energy hybrids are consuming more than 11kg of spherical graphite per car – and up to 70% of the graphite flake is destroyed to make spherical graphite, so that is a huge take-up market.

Globally, China currently produces around 75% of the world’s graphite or about 800,000 tonnes of the estimated 1.1 million tonnes produced in the 2010 calendar year. However, the quality of its graphite is declining and its supply consistency suffers from the closure over winter of mines in northern China.

Gerard Anderson says the future for graphite is not unlike the recent history of rare earth elements (REE) and lithium with few realizing how quick these commodities increased in importance as applications were discovered.

Archer’s extensive landholdings in South Australia hosting a large number of high grade outcropping graphite occurrences – including the rare and higher value large flake graphite – place it in a strong position to rapidly advance exploration to capitalise on the surging global demand.

The company’s flagship graphite deposits include the Sugarloaf project near Cowell on Eyre Peninsula which has an exploration target of 24-37 million tonnes grading 10-12% carbon.

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