Graphite is one of the three allotropic forms of carbon. Its platy hexagonal arrangement and metamorphic nature make it a very versatile material with a wide range of application in industries and daily use applications. All graphite exists in three states — crystalline, flake and amorphous forms.
Graphite prices vary depending on the type of graphite in question since all its forms need different conditions to form. The harder a type is to form the higher the price it fetches.
Graphite at a Glance
Chances are your first interaction with graphite was with the lead in your pencil. This is the classic state of graphite. It is a black, gray substance with a sticky softness.
This makes it leave black marks when smeared on a surface — a characteristic that makes it so good at making pencils. Other notable graphite characteristics include:
- Excellent heat and electricity conductivity
- Ability to withstand high temperatures
- Inert to most acids and reagents
Most of the world’s graphite comes from South Korea and Australia.
This is the most common and the cheapest form of graphite. It has a small crystal making it more slippery. The abundance and its small crystals make it perfect for applications such as:
- Making the lead in your pencil
- Used to make special lubricants since the smaller crystals give it extra slippery
- It is the carbon riser during the production of steel
- Makes printing electrolytes
- Creates grinding wheels and used in powder metallurgy
Why the amount of graphite that goes into pencils and lubricants might not affect global prices of amorphous graphite, metallurgy and steel applications consume huge sums of graphite and can affect global prices.
Crystalline Flake Graphite
Coarser crystals characterize this form of graphite, and since it is less common than amorphous graphite, it is slightly costly. The bigger crystals give it low resistance to heat and electrical conductivity.
- The electric conductivity makes it a perfect choice for carbon electrodes, plates and brushes in batteries and electronics
- Its high heat conductivity makes a great choice for crucibles
- When used is foundry-facing, it reduces the sand’s tendency to stick to cast items
- It also makes great lubricants thanks to its ability to stay suspended in oil
Vein or Lump Graphite
This is the rarest and most expensive form of graphite. Due to its price, it is rarely used in bulk metallurgical or manufacturing processes. Its most common application is in the production of paint. It repels water very well and gives decent protective covers on wood and other construction surfaces.
Recently, it has also found use in high-friction uses like in car brakes and clutch disks. You will also find vein graphite in high electrical and thermal conductivity settings due to its exemplary conductivity.
Even though the cost of graphite changes depending on the type of sale, it is still subject to the laws of inelasticity since it is hard to replace it when it is in low supply. This not only makes prices more responsive to supply and demand but also makes it a great commodity to invest in.