February 27

Global scramble is on for graphite, key high-tech ingredient

Experts say the expanded use of lithium-ion batteries as well as a decrease in supply from China has helped touch off the largest wave of mining projects in decades.

By Dan Joling
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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A technician holds a graphite core sample drilled near Graphite Creek, a mineral claim being explored by Graphite One Resources north of Nome, Alaska.

The Associated Press / Graphite One Resources

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Graphite Creek, a mineral claim being explored by Graphite One Resources, runs along the Kigluaik Mountains north of Nome, Alaska.

The Associated Press / Graphite One Resources

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Batteries for renewable power sources, such as those that store solar and wind energy, may be a more important use, Hains said. Also, the USGS says energy companies are developing large-scale, fuel cell projects that could one day consume as much graphite as all other uses combined.

For any new operation, consistent sales will depend on providing specific properties to specific buyers, Hains said. “You can’t just say you have graphite for sale and expect everybody will come knocking at your door,” he said.

Some will want high purity, large-flake graphite, but for a mine to succeed it likely will also need to provide smaller-flake graphite to traditional markets, he said. Demand rises and falls based on the needs of steel-makers and other users. Production has been up and down since 2006, ranging from a low of 925 million metric tons in 2010 to 1.15 billion metric tons in 2011.

Graphite One Resources is in its third year of exploration after moving away from gold when the graphite price spiked.

Company officials say the project carries none of the environmental concerns that have dogged other projects in Alaska. Pebble Mine, a proposed copper and gold development, for example, has drawn protests from those who say it would foul the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

“No cyanide, anything like that for sure,” Besserer said. “At the end of the day, it’s going to be a very small operation, like a glorified gravel pit.” An active graphite mine likely would employee 100 workers, he said.

Graphite One Resources has been in discussion with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources about regulatory requirements for opening a mine.

“Graphite is not a commodity that I have much experience at all with,” said Tom Crafford, director of Alaska’s Office of Project Management and Permitting. “But I think these guys could genuinely be real. They might truly have a project that could have the economic underpinnings to warrant development and operation.”

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