Graphite: Not Your Average Metal

June 26, 2024

Think Graphite is just for pencils? Think again! The applications of graphite are manifold. Graphite is needed for electronic and electrical applications, metallurgy, lubricants, foundry facings, brake linings, carbon brushes in electric motors, polishes, the production of glass and more. Its high thermal and electrical conductivity make it a key part of steelmaking, where it is used as electrodes in electric arc furnaces. 

The Alaska Factor

For many of these uses, no suitable substitutes are available. Further, graphite is designated as a critical mineral by the U.S. Department of the Interior due to its importance to the economy and national security - and it is found in abundance right here in Alaska! Graphite Creek, near Nome, is not only America’s largest source of natural graphite, it is also one of the largest known graphite deposits outside of China.

Minerals are vital for economic growth, improving quality of life, providing for national defense, and the overall functioning of modern society. (U.S. Geological Survey)

The world demand for graphite is predicted to increase as the mineral is needed for large scale fuel cells, batteries, and lightweight high-strength composites. 

The New Strategic Metal

Global demand for graphite has increased significantly in the 21st century due largely to its use as the anode in lithium-ion batteries for both hybrid and electric vehicles. Graphite is the largest component of the lithium-ion battery equalling roughly half of the elements used. 

With this in mind, the rapidly expanding hybrid and electric vehicle industry alone is a massive driver of graphite demand, not to mention graphite’s use in other renewable technologies. A 2020 World Bank Group report estimates that the production of minerals including graphite, as well as lithium and cobalt, will require an increase of nearly 500% by 2050 to meet the growing demand for clean energy technologies.

Catalyst Alaska

How does Alaska factor into the equation? Graphite Creek could supply the entire nation's graphite needs and offer a significant pipeline feeding the lithium-ion battery supply chain. What is the potential impact?

  • Supporting widespread electrification
  • Contributing to the further development of green technologies
  • Driving the electric vehicle revolution
  • Assisting in freeing America from foreign mineral dependence

If you pencil out the numbers, graphite could hold the key to the energy transition with  Alaska well-positioned to responsibly lead the way.