Graphite market outlook: Five key factors to watch

Fastmarkets experts share graphite forecasts, data and interactive price charts to demonstrate the ever-changing battery materials landscape and make some key predictions for the future of the graphite market

Graphite demand and prices enjoyed phenomenal growth last year, largely supported by expansion in the electric vehicle (EV) lithium-ion battery sector, where graphite is the key raw material consumed in EV battery anodes. While the long-term outlook for graphite remains strong, the industry is facing near-term obstacles. Here are Fastmarkets’ five key factors to watch in the graphite market.

1. The graphite long-term outlook remains strong

Natural graphite flake prices are forecast to rise significantly over the coming decade, propelled higher by exponential growth in the EV battery sector and underlying changes to global graphite supply. This is centered on the industry’s desire to diversify supply away from China, while also localizing supply in areas such as Europe and North America. As the industry targets local, diversified supply, the industry will also face a push for more environmentally friendly production and processing and utilization of green power sources. We expect to see this combination of factors increase the underlying natural graphite cost base, contributing to higher prices.

2. Competition from synthetic graphite intensifies

Despite this favorable long-term outlook, graphite prices have been tumbling this year, after posting impressive gains in 2022. Declining prices this year reflect a number of factors, most critically rising competition from Chinese synthetic graphite active anode material (AAM) in response to lower Chinese power costs and significant increases to graphitization capacity in China. This has been exacerbated by reduced demand from the electric arc furnace (EAF) steel sector for graphite electrodes, leaving more synthetic graphite available for the xEV battery sector.

Synthetic graphite AAM prices have fallen sharply in response to increased production capacity and lower costs, intensifying competition for natural spherical graphite AAM. Natural graphite battery precursor material is now priced at a premium to synthetic graphite battery precursor material, eliminating the key cost advantage of natural graphite versus synthetic graphite and in turn hindering demand for natural graphite AAM.

3. Synthetic graphite AAM capturing rising market share

Rising synthetic graphite supply and declining prices have prompted increased demand from anode manufacturers for synthetic graphite in lieu of natural graphite precursor material.

These factors combined to push synthetic graphite utilization rates in AAM manufacturing to as high as 85-90% in the first half of 2023, up from a more typical industry average of around 70% in recent years.

4. Increased competition from synthetic graphite dampening prices in 2023

We expect these trends to continue to influence demand and pricing in 2023. We have lowered our base case price forecasts for natural graphite uSPG and flake for the next several years, reflecting persistent competition from synthetic graphite.

5. Future growth in natural graphite demand will be driven by ex-China consumers

We maintain the view that natural graphite prices will be rising sharply in the coming years reflecting surging demand from the xEV sector, as well as rising power costs and increasingly stringent ESG regulations. This will push the market into a significant deficit without required investment in the graphite space.

Given the rising dominance of synthetic graphite in Chinese anodes, we expect to see growth in demand for natural graphite precursor anode material and AAM to be centered in ex-Chinese markets. Given significant investment by both US and European governments to encourage localized, diversified and ESG-friendly supply, we forecast natural graphite will play a key role in anode material demand in these regions in the longer term.

We expect to see premium pricing structures emerge in ex-China markets to reflect higher costs associated with ESG friendly supply, but also to encourage the much-needed investment in the sector to prompt the development of localized and diversified supply. Without additional investment, the market will fall into a significant deficit beyond 2030.

Understand the dynamics of the graphite market

Keep up with the latest news, market intelligence and trends in the graphite market when you visit our dedicated graphite market page.

Get an in-depth, 10-year view into where and when graphite supply will come online with our graphite long-term forecast.

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