On Thursday 7 May, Roskill’s graphite analyst Suzanne Shaw took part in a MMSteelClub lockdown webinar, discussing a potential future for the graphite market post COVID-19. Speakers were overall positive in their expectations, with Roskill putting forward the view that demand is likely to be more affected than supply going forward, but that the market response will vary for each of the main applications.
Roskill joined other industry experts including: Stephen Riddle, former CEO of Asbury Carbons (USA); Shishir Poddar, Executive Chairman/Managing Director of Tirupati Graphite (India/Madagascar); Donald Baxter, CEO/Director of Applied Graphite Technologies (Canada); Iván Cisneros, Owner AMBIENTAL Consultoria e Engenharia de Processos (Brazil).
Many delegates were interested in the future of the EV/lithium-ion battery market which, until recently, had experienced rapid growth and underpinned an upward trend in graphite demand. The EV market was already weak in the months leading up to the COVID-19 crisis because of cutbacks to Chinese incentives and lower demand, but is expected to see recovery shortly as the Chinese economy comes back on-line and with new EV incentives expected in June. Overall, Roskill expects only temporary disruption to a market with great potential for growth.
The steel industry, meanwhile, had been very weak for a number of years prior to COVID-19, based on slowing demand from China. Steel demand underpins the largest applications for graphite, including synthetic graphite refractories for electric arc furnaces, refractory materials for furnaces, foundry sands, and recarburising additives for steel. Roskill expects a more exaggerated effect in these traditional graphite markets, with crude steel production to see a severe decline as a result of COVID-19 – stronger even than the decline following the 2009 global economic downturn.
On the supply side, China is the major producer of both natural and synthetic graphite, and the only commercial scale producer of downstream spherical graphite (processed from natural flake specifically for use in lithium-ion battery anodes). Chinese mines and plants have been coming back on-line since end-February and are now increasing production back to normal levels. Full recovery in synthetic graphite is likely to see a longer lag period than natural graphite because of long manufacturing times associated with the sector of up to six months. Recovery for all graphite products will continue to depend on the availability of staff as they return to work.
Other major producers of natural flake graphite in Brazil and India appear to have seen limited effects so far; however, Graphite India and HEG, major Indian producers of synthetic graphite, have closed plants temporarily. Africa is an increasingly large supplier of natural flake graphite and is likely to see greater focus in coming months as the graphite industry waits to see how the COVID-19 scenario develops across the continent.
Roskill’s NEW Natural & Synthetic Graphite: Outlook to 2030, 13th Edition report will be published in July 2020; Click here to download the brochure and sample pages for the report, or to access further information.