Look about your desk, either in the workplace or at home, and the chances are high that you’ll find an item that contains Graphite- the focus of this week’s edition of Mineral Monday.
Graphite’s name is derived from its ability to leave marks on paper and other objects. It was German Minerologist, Abraham Gottlob Werner who coined the term with ‘Graphite’ stemming from ‘Graphein’ meaning to write / draw in Ancient Greek.
It is speculated that Graphite has been in use since the 4th millennium BC, during the Neolithic Age, when it was used in decorations. However, with the rise of civilisation Graphite found more and varied uses. At the time of the 16th century Graphite was being used as a refractory material to line moulds for cannonballs and to hold molten metal in general.
Fast-forward to the present-day and the applications of Graphite have grown exponentially. Natural Graphite now finds use in batteries, steelmaking, brake linings, foundry facings, lubricants and of course pencils!
The growth of portable electronics has driven demand for Graphite over the past twenty years as both natural and synthetic Graphite are used to construct the anode of all major battery technologies.
In addition to natural Graphite, it can also be produced synthetically. The process to make synthetic Graphite was discovered accidentally by Edward Goodrich Acheson in the mid-1890s when he overheated carborundum, leaving him with almost pure Graphite.
Where is it produced / mined?
Graphite is mined by both open pit and underground methods. As of 2015, the world’s leading producer- by quite some margin- was China (Mine production: 780,000 MT). Other major producers include India (170,000 MT), Brazil (80,000 MT), and Turkey (32,000 MT).
Did you know?
• Graphite has the same chemical formula as diamond (C), yet the two minerals could hardly be more unlike. Diamond is the hardest of minerals, Graphite one of the softest; diamond is transparent, Graphite opaque; and diamond is almost twice as dense as Graphite. These radically different properties arise from the way the atoms are arranged in each substance.
• Electric vehicle batteries are anticipated to increase Graphite demand. As an example, a lithium-ion battery in a fully electric Nissan Leaf contains nearly 40kg of Graphite.
• Graphite is exceptional at conducting electricity. Roughly, its conductivity is one-third that of copper, half that of aluminium and twice that of steel at room temperature.
• Graphite has an extremely high melting point. Because of this Graphite is used as an insulation barrier for rockets, brake shoes and fire doors.
As we have seen, Graphite plays an important role in many aspects of modern engineering. Can you think of any other minerals, without which, the world of engineering would grind to a halt?