Graphite As an Anode Material in Lithium-Ion Batteries

Graphite is essential to batteries: it’s used in the anode, the negative electrode in lithium-ion battery (LIB) technology that powers electric cars, laptops and grid-scale storage. Graphite is chemically inert and has good electrical conductivity. It is also cheap and highly water-resistant, which makes it a good cathodic protection anode material for underground pipelines and storage tanks.

Despite alternatives such as silicon and lithium titanate, which have gained in importance over the last two decades, LIBs still use graphite anodes to store and discharge energy. This is due to their high cycle life, which contributes to the technology’s competitiveness over other battery types.

As the demand for LIBs rises, so does the demand for anode materials. Currently, natural graphite is the preferred anode material because of its low cost and good performance during rapid charging. It can be mined from flake material or made synthetically using a process called Acheson furnace that heats petroleum coke feedstock to 3,000 degrees Celsius.

However, this production method is not very environmentally friendly: it produces twice as much carbon dioxide as the natural mining and spheroidization processes. The emissions from the Acheson furnace are often used to generate electricity in China, a fact that has spurred some original equipment manufacturers on to seek diversified suppliers of graphite for their anode factories and reduce dependency on China for a critical battery component.

It is possible that this will shift demand in favour of synthetic graphite, which is cheaper and less polluting. But alternative anode materials such as silicon, LTO and mesocarbon microbeads do not yet have the performance to match those of traditional graphite, which is expected to account for 80% of global demand by 2040.

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