Mining firm studies battery grade graphite production in Tanzania

 KIBARAN Resources has started a high level study into the production of battery grade spherical graphite from its Epanko Project within the broader Mahenge Project in Tanzania.

This will also evaluate the feasibility of establishing a spherical graphite manufacturing facility in Dar es Salaam. Recent testwork confirmed that both the Epanko and Merelani graphite projects are of spherical grade with one of the highest purities known, being 99.98 per cent carbon.

This is encouraging given that market research has shown a competitive advantage in the electric vehicle (EV) battery market with high energy density using ultra-high purity graphite.

Flake size and carbon content are some of the key reasons why Epanko has already attracted binding offtake agreements. Kibaran’s initial focus will be to produce battery grade spherical graphite for the battery manufacturers which involves mechanical machining of natural flake graphite and then purification.

The value upgrade is in the order of 3 to 4 times more than prices for graphite concentrate with prices greater than $4000 per tonne expected.

The EV battery market is growing rapidly with sales figures for 2014 up 54 per cent over the previous year. Lithium ion batteries (LiB) are now being used in hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles (FCV) where the batteries are large and hence the potential demand for quality graphite is very significant.

LiB Batteries for the EV market have the anode electrodes fabricated from a mixture of both synthetic and spherical natural graphite to enhance cell performance.

Natural large flake graphite is required for the power output in both EV and FCV vehicles and at present there are no substitutes, as spherical graphite within the LiB is the key component required for the ability to transfer the energy. Synthetic graphite contributes to the long cycle life of the battery.

Approximately 10-15 times more graphite by weight than lithium goes into a lithium ion battery and with losses in the manufacturing process it actually requires 30-40 times as much graphite.

The development of a better battery product with higher energy efficiency, longer charge life or shorter recharge times has enormous commercial implications.

Based on confidential market research, the ultra-high purity graphite from Kibaran’s projects can play a major role in this new market.

Additional graphite production and processing plants will be required for the expanding EV battery market and the company is developing production scenarios based on the projected increases in this EV battery vehicle market.

Kibaran is positioning to participate in the EV market and is currently in discussion with a number of traders and potential strategic partners within the high value manufacturing chain to secure a significant market share for its graphite.

Expanded graphite in graphite foils is a premium priced product and the company has been evaluating this market over the past 2 years and was one of the reasons why Kibaran attracted its first binding offtake from a sophisticated trader.

The demand for graphite from the thermally efficient building market using expanded graphite foils is potentially larger than the LiB market.

European building codes are leading the world in design and evolution of new products and the climate change debate is expected to increase demand on new building codes, requiring the increased use of thermally efficient building products such as Germany’s SGL’s Ecophit® product.

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