An increase in pollution caused by graphite mines throughout China has led to more than 50 of the mines and processing plants being shut down. Graphite is a key ingredient in lithium-ion batteries used in many consumer electric goods, including electric vehicles.
Reports of “graphite rain” (basically rain drops filled with graphite dust and other particles) and hydrochloric acid being released untreated into waterways has prompted the mine shutdowns. This isn’t the first time China has done this, either. In December 2013 approximately 55 graphite mines and processing centers were suspended in Shandong province, which controls 10% of the global graphite supply.
Graphite gets used a lot in our day to day lives, and not just in your #2 pencil. Take a look at the numbers for yourself. The average fully-electric car, like a Nissan Leaf, contains about 50 kilograms (110 lbs.) of graphite, while hybrid cars like the Prius use about 22 lbs.
It isn’t just cars that use graphite either; E-bikes 1 kilogram, laptop computer about 100 grams, and mobile smart phones about 15 grams according to studies from Monash University’s department of materials engineering. EV company Tesla Motors is planning to open a by 2020, although some view this as a risky move given the uncertain state of the global market.
The closure of the Chinese mines and processing centers has raised concerns that the price for graphite might skyrocket, increasing the production cost of lithium-ion batteries. However, all is not lost. Seeing an uptick and an opening in the graphite market, an Australian graphite mine that had shut down in the 1980s is planning on reopening soon.
Actions like these will provide greater global competition in the graphite market, hopefully spread out the graphite mining operations to lessen localized pollution problems, as well as increase the demand for international mining regulations to avoid the costly consequences of mining this much-needed mineral.