As an inherent part of Li-ion battery (LBI) anodes, natural flake graphite has become a strategic mineral resource in developed world economies like EU, US and China. In five years, it is expected an increase in the demand for this product 7-fold compared to actual consumption nearly 150,000 tons. Satiation is aggravated, because only China has relevant reserves which are quite sufficient not only for state’s own purposes, but for the export too. As a result, two simultaneous processes, crucial for battery industry, are taking place now worldwide. The first one is acquisition and exploration of new mines (in Brazil, India, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, Australia, Sweden, etc.) by engaged companies aiming to get exclusive access to graphite ores and, in this way, secure future profits. The second is development of downstream processing technologies intended to purify graphite to battery grade > 99.95%.

According to Zavalivskiy Graphite Ltd official data [1], a local Ukrainian graphite producer, the annual company’s production capacity is up to 30,000 tons of graphite with the carbon content of 85% to 99% and particle size of up to 200 microns. Mentioned physical features correspond with common requirements to precursor materials by batteries manufactures. In this connection, Ukraine with its unique graphite deposit and geographic position, close to one of the expanding major market, is capable to take over as a key player in emerging battery supply chains of EU.

Since 2008 the Department of Industrial Heat Engineering at the National Metallurgical Academy of Ukraine (NMAU) along with Thermal and Material Engineering Center (Dnipro, Ukraine) have been working on a proprietary graphite purification technology based on fluidized bed concept (TMEC-ETFBP) [2-3]. The process involves direct resistive heating of graphite powder up to 2800-3000°C, the range of disposal most of the volatile impurities and upgrading the material to battery level. The key advantages of the TMEC-ETFBP are that the treatment occurs at continuous mode without chlorine, acids and any other chemicals.

The ongoing research ‘Development the Technology of Graphite Manufacture for LBIs’ funded by Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine is related to a feasibility study of Ukrainian natural graphite applicability for battery purpose. In the framework of the project, the research team has already developed and successfully tested a laboratory scale reactor of 5 kW power equipped with non-inertia heating system. The first test results show that Ukrainian natural graphite can be thermally purified to 99.99% grade.

 

References 

  1. ZAVALIVSKIY GRAPHITE LTD. Production of natural flake graphite in Ukraine since 1934. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2019, from https://zvgraphit.com.ua/en/about-company/
  2. Fedorov, S. S., Rohatgi, U. S., Barsukov, I. V., Gubynskyi, M. V., Barsukov, M. G., Wells, B. S., Livitan, M. V., Gogotsi, O. G. (2015). Ultrahigh-Temperature Continuous Reactors Based on Electrothermal Fluidized Bed Concept. Journal of Fluids Engineering, 138(4), 044502. doi:10.1115/1.4031689.
  3. Fedorov, S. S. (Au.), Hubynskyi, S. M. (Ed.) (2018, October 20). Thermal Purification of Carbon Materials. Retrieved February 22, 2019, from https://tmec.com.ua/en/menu/thermal-purification-of-carbon-materials?_url=/menu/thermal-purification-of-carbon-materials

 

by Fedorov S., Hubynskyi M., Sybir A., Hubynskyi S., Foris S.

March 26, 2019

 

Link to follow the article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ukraines-graphite-perspectives-li-ion-battery-supply-chains-fedorov/