Australia-based graphite exploration and development company, BlackEarth Minerals NL (ASX: BEM), which was incorporated in the year 2016, is currently focusing on fast-tracking its flagship and highly prospective property, Maniry Graphite Project (100 per cent owned) in southern Madagascar. Moreover, the company is in parallel, reviewing the potential of Ianapera, its second wholly owned graphite project in Madagascar, which is a highly positive mining jurisdiction with more than hundred years of graphite history.
The company is in testing and offtake discussions with Tier 1 players (Chinese and international) that are both commercial and technical industry leaders in the global graphite market, and the discussions focus on high value coarse flakes for expandable graphite and high-end refractory applications.
Recently, based on testing on the company’s coarse flake graphite samples from the Maniry Graphite Project, the world’s largest expanded graphite products manufacturer revealed excellent quality and expansion rates. Additionally, the world’s leading refractory manufacturer shared positive results and quality approval on the company’s natural graphite.
Owing to the forecast of potential natural graphite flake global deficit in 2023, BlackEarth Minerals is building momentum towards entering into production shortly, with the aim to complete a feasibility study into the Maniry Graphite Project during 2020 and start the project commissioning in the next year (2021).
In addition to BlackEarth Minerals, there are several other companies that are focusing on graphite to add shareholders’ value, benefiting from the expanding demand for graphite, owing to surging market for electric vehicles and energy storage, expandables including fire retardant building materials and refractories.
Let us explore graphite and its widening application in expandables market (fire retardants, sheeting for the electronics industry, high temperature / acid resistant gaskets, etc.), one of the key segments for which BEM is proposing to produce its products.
Expandable Graphite - A Special Type of Graphite
The black shiny greasy mineral, graphite is a naturally occurring form of crystalline carbon and is most commonly found to occur in metamorphic rocks. Graphite is soft, light, inert and highly resistant to heat, and its amazingly diverse properties enable the mineral to be used in a number of different ways. Over the years, use of graphite has evolved, such as from pencils to manufacturing lubricants.
A compound of graphite, expandable graphite expands or exfoliates when heated. Moreover, it is manufactured when flake graphite is treated with reagents. It has extremely high expansion ratio, when heated (~1,000°C) it expands immediately 100x its original size. High heat resistance, corrosion resistance, softness, compression resilience and radiation resistance are among the unique properties of expandable graphite.
Owing to all these unique properties, expandable graphite has great potential for high-end applications, including flame retardant building materials, material processing, instrumentation & measurement, graphite gasket products, electrically conductive fillers, coatings, and graphene synthesis. The outlook of the expandable graphite market is bright, owing to growing opportunities in all the above-mentioned applications.
Flame retardant is one of the principal applications of expandable graphite, and according to some research reports, the fire-retardant building materials market is forecast to reach approximately $ 400 million by 2026. Moreover, China is projected to require a total of 40 million tonnes per annum of fire-retardant building materials, with 5% of this product being made of graphite. This percentage is equal to 2 million tonnes per annum of high quality large-flake graphite being consumed by the Chinese construction industry alone.
Given not all large flake graphite is suitable for the expandable markets, there’s little wonder why BlackEarth’s management is excited, given their recent independently derived test results and the potential to realise >US$1000/t extra revenue versus battery market / anode material.
The current project study outcomes have highlighted that the Maniry Project is a robust and financially attractive graphite project by global standards, with the outlook for large flake high quality graphite remaining positive for the next 10-15 years.
Though BlackEarth Minerals is among several other graphite-focused players, the testing of its material via off-takers / experts in the field is proving to be a big differentiator between the company and other prospective graphite producers. Based on the feedback shared from various parties so far, the outlook is very positive for the company’s products.
Stock Price Information
The stock of BlackEarth Minerals last traded at $ 0.051 on 19 December 2019, with a market cap of $ 5.76 million and approximately 113 million outstanding shares.
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