Ontario mining firm produces spherical graphite for EV batteries

Northern Graphite looks to boost Canadian spherical graphite market, relieving dependence on Chinese producers.

April 11, 2012

OTTAWA: Northern Graphite Corp. has manufactured test quantities of spherical graphite from graphite concentrate produced at the company’s Bissett Creek deposit, near North Bay, Ont.

The spherical graphite has been evaluated in Lithium/graphite battery test cells, demonstrating that it exceeds current commercial performance requirements and that Bissett Creek graphite does not contain any impurities that negatively affect cell performance. Further test cycles are on-going. The cells were made and testing carried out in an independent laboratory.

Spherical graphite is used to make the anodes in Li ion batteries and is manufactured from the flake concentrate produced by graphite mining operations. The upgrading process consists of micronizing the graphite flakes, rounding them to create a spherical or “potato” shape, and purifying them to increase the carbon content to 99.95%.

Northern Graphite micronized and rounded its Bissett Creek graphite to basic industry specifications and can modify it to meet the requirements of various products and manufacturers.

Spherical graphite sells for much higher prices than run of mine graphite concentrates. Currently, almost all spherical graphite is produced from small flake concentrates (-100 to +150 mesh) and 70% of the graphite is destroyed in the process. As a result, it takes three tonnes of small flake graphite to make one tonne of spherical graphite. These losses are the single largest cost in the manufacturing of spherical graphite.

But, Northern Graphite has achieved spherical graphite yields from its large flake concentrate as high as 70% to substantially reduce production costs.

Almost all spherical graphite is currently produced in China and purified using strong acids which results in large volumes of acidic and toxic waste, a method that is not environmentally sustainable.  It is also inconsistent with the green energy objectives of the hybrid and all electric car industry.

Graphite from Bissett Creek has enabled the company to develop a proprietary purification technology that is environmentally friendly and sustainable. The technology works at much lower temperatures than traditional thermal purification techniques, resulting in lower capital and operating costs.

Graphite prices have increased substantially due to the ongoing modernization of China and other emerging economies, which has resulted in strong demand from traditional steel and automotive markets. New applications such as lithium ion batteries, vanadium redox batteries, fuel cells and nuclear power have the potential to create significant incremental demand growth.

The manufacturing of Li ion batteries requires up to 30 times more graphite than lithium and their use in the growing EV/HEV market is expected to require significant increases in graphite production. However, graphite production and exports from China, which produces 70% of the world’s supply, are expected to decline and an export tax and a licensing system have been instituted. As a result, both the EU and the US have declared graphite a supply critical mineral.

Northern Graphite Corp. is a mine development company based in Ottawa.