India graphite producer Tirupati Graphite Group plans to further ramp up production at its Madagascan Sahamamy flake graphite project, increasing output of extra-large size graphite suitable for production of expandable/expanded graphite because of growing demand for this material from India. FastMarkets reported last week that Tirupati Graphite Group has already ramped up to 75% of full capacity at Sahamamy, which currently stands at 3ktpy following the installation of a new plant in April this year and removal of the original 0.6ktpy plant in 2018.
The Group is well-placed to take advantage of large size flake graphite production in Madagascar. It plans to open a second, 18ktpy plant at the Sahamamy site in Q3 2020 and is also developing its Vatomina flake graphite project in Madagascar which could come into production later this year with 6ktpy of capacity and ramp up to a potential 60ktpy in future. The company plans to eventually install six new plants in Madagascar across its two operations, totalling 81ktpy of capacity by Q1 2022 with 21ktpy at Sahamamy and 60ktpy at Vatomina; it is targeting 27ktpy of installed capacity in the country by next year. By 2021, Tirupati Graphite Group plans to produce 20ktpy of high-grade, high value, flake graphite for use in lithium-ion batteries, expandable graphite and graphene.
A number of other producers also exploit flake graphite in Madagascar and have increased production in recent years. These include Établissements Gallois (which has three mines and a plant capable of producing at least 10kpy and is known to be expanding at two of its minesites) and Bass Metals of Australia (which has redeveloped the Graphmada mine where stage 1 capacity of 6kpty was commissioned in April 2018).
The high cost and environmental restrictions associated with the production of expandable/expanded graphite means these products are almost all processed in China. Chinese resources of larger size flake graphite, however, are known to be limited and interest in Madagascar is increasing as this market develops. Madagascan exports of flake graphite to China increased by more than 12% per month (pm) between January 2017 and June 2019 and are still rising.
A number of Indian companies, however, are thought to be keen to invest in the emerging expandable/expanded industry, producing products both for an increasing domestic market and for export. Exports of Madagascan flake graphite to India have grown at 4%pm between January 2017 and June 2019, averaging 520tpm though the first half of 2019 compared to 417tpm through 2018 and just 90tpm through 2017.
Madagascan graphite is known historically for its very large flake size and relatively high natural carbon grade. Although lithium-ion batteries typically require lower value flakes in the medium and small size range, expandable/expanded graphite requires large flake sizes and extra-large flake sizes often referred to as jumbo and super-jumbo flake. Expandable graphite (produced through the chemical treatment of graphite flake) finds use in fire retardant materials, expanding on contact with high temperatures to block air spaces and reduce the fire’s spread. If expanded under the correct conditions, the resulting expanded graphite can be rolled flat and shaped into flexible graphite—materials used as thin gaskets, foils and even heat management products for electronic devices such as laptops. Although expandable/expanded applications currently account for just 50-60Mt of graphite demand in 2019 (7% of the natural flake graphite market and 2% of the total natural and synthetic graphite market), the sector is growing strongly.
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