What Is Graphite?

Graphite is a mineral that consists of crystalline carbon, and is naturally occurring in metamorphic and igneous rocks. It exhibits the properties of a metal and a nonmetal, which make it ideal for many industrial applications.

Unlike diamond, which crystallizes in a tetrahedral system, graphite has a hexagonal structure where it consists of rings of six carbon atoms tightly bonded together in widely spaced layers. This three-dimensional structure is responsible for the graphite’s physical characteristics, which include electrical conductivity and lubricity.

Its cleavage and extreme softness, as well as its greasy feel, make it a useful material for pencils, paints, and lubricants. It is also a popular medium for art and photography.

The crystalline structure of graphite makes it the most stable form of carbon under standard conditions. The atoms of carbon bond into the hexagonal layers using three strong covalent bonds. These bonds are surrounded by delocalized electrons, which allow the carbon atoms to slide along the planes of the graphite layers and create a good electrical conductor.

There are other forms of crystalline carbon, but none of them can compete with the physical and chemical properties of graphite. Some examples of other crystalline carbon compounds are fullerenes (buckyballs), nano-tubes, and graphene.

Natural graphite is in high demand in a variety of industries, including the steel industry (refractories), the automotive and electric motor industry (brake linings, gaskets, clutch materials, etc.) and the lithium ion battery ("LiB") industry (anode material). The LiB market has been growing 20% per year for the past five or six years and is now expected to consume 25% of global graphite production.

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