BATTERY MATERIALS CONF: Natural graphite to become new trend in EV sectors in the future; flake graphite price attracts attention

Increasing demand for graphite cathode for new energy vehicles (EV) and its cheaper price compared with synthetic graphite, is turning the attention of the market to the price of flake graphite, delegates at Fastmarkets’ Battery Materials Conference in Shanghai heard last week.

In terms of traditional downstream industries for flake graphite, such as refractories, foundry and lubrication, and pencils, growth in flake graphite consumption has been stable.

But in high-tech fields, such as EV sectors, consumption of flake graphite has emerged as a growth point of demand in recent years.

Although the performance of synthetic graphite is better than natural graphite, the lower price of natural graphite, namely nature flake graphite, can not only reduce production costs, but also provide room for improving performance, Jonghui Wang from China Minmetals told delegates at the conference on Friday April 12.

With the development of China’s 2025 plan put on the agenda, under the optimistic situation, it is estimated that consumption of nature graphite in the battery field will reach 434,000 tonnes in 2025, among which lithium battery cathode material will account for 310,000 tonnes.

Consumption of natural graphite in the field of batteries and other new energy batteries will increase from 9.7% of total consumption of natural graphite in China in 2015, to 40-50% by 2030, Wang added.

Lithium battery cathode material mainly comes from the field of EV sectors. China is the world’s largest new energy vehicle market and it is estimated that the market size of power batteries will exceed 100GWh in 2020.

That means the natural graphite market is expected to be short by 34,000 tonnes in 2020. It is expected that by 2025, the market for battery cathode materials will require an additional 1.2 million tonnes of nature graphite, which may lead to a shortage of 385,000 tonnes by 2025, Wang told delegates.

As a result, the spherical graphite price will be underpinned by development in EV sectors.

Fastmarkets assessed Chinese export price for spherical graphite 99.95% C, 15 microns, at $2,800-2,900 per tonne fob China on Thursday April 11, unchanged since May 24, 2018. 

At the same time, increasing demand for spherical graphite in new energy vehicle batteries has led to a surge in imports of upstream materials such as flake graphite.

“End users thought the supply of flake graphite was enough, but now we have to rely on a lot of imports,” one delegate said on the sidelines of the conference.

“With the increasing import volume and the downstream demand for natural flake graphite of modification for better application in the field of EV sector make the market pay more attention to the price of flake graphite now,” he added.

Fastmarkets assessed the export price for Chinese flake graphite, 94-97% C, -100 mesh, at $620-770 per tonne fob Qingdao on Thursday April 11, down by $10 per tonne from $630-770 per tonne fob Qingdao previous week.