The use of graphite in batteries has been increasing in the last 30 years. Natural and synthetic graphite are used to construct the anode of all major battery technologies. The lithium-ion battery utilizes roughly twice the amount of graphite than lithium carbonate.
The demand for batteries, primarily nickel-metal-hydride and lithium-ion batteries, has caused a growth in graphite demand in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This growth was driven by portable electronics, such as portable CD players and power tools. Laptops, mobile phones, tablet, and smartphone products have increased the demand for batteries. Electric vehicle batteries are anticipated to increase graphite demand. As an example, a lithium-ion battery in a fully electric Nissan Leaf contains nearly 40 kg of graphite.
Natural graphite in this end use mostly goes into carbon raising in molten steel, although it can be used to lubricate the dies used to extrude hot steel. Supplying carbon raisers is very competitive, therefore subject to cut-throat pricing from alternatives such as synthetic graphite powder, petroleum coke, and other forms of carbon. A carbon raiser is added to increase the carbon content of the steel to the specified level. An estimate based on USGS US graphite consumption statistics indicates that 10,500 tonnes were used in this fashion in 2005.
Natural amorphous and fine flake graphite are used in brake linings or brake shoes for heavier (nonautomotive) vehicles, and became important with the need to substitute for asbestos. This use has been important for quite some time, but nonasbestos organic (NAO) compositions are beginning to reduce graphite's market share. A brake-lining industry shake-out with some plant closures has not been beneficial, nor has an indifferent automotive market. According to the USGS, US natural graphite consumption in brake linings was 6,510 tonnes in 2005.
Foundry facings and lubricants
A foundry facing mold wash is a water-based paint of amorphous or fine flake graphite. Painting the inside of a mold with it and letting it dry leaves a fine graphite coat that will ease separation of the object cast after the hot metal has cooled. Graphite lubricants are specialty items for use at very high or very low temperatures, as forging die lubricant, an antiseize agent, a gear lubricant for mining machinery, and to lubricate locks. Having low-grit graphite, or even better no-grit graphite (ultra high purity), is highly desirable. It can be used as a dry powder, in water or oil, or as colloidal graphite (a permanent suspension in a liquid). An estimate based on USGS graphite consumption statistics indicates that 2,200 tonnes was used in this fashion in 2005.
The ability to leave marks on paper and other objects gave graphite its name, given in 1789 by German mineralogist Abraham Gottlob Werner. It stems from graphein, meaning to write/draw in Ancient Greek.
From the 16th Century, pencils were made with leads of English natural graphite, but modern pencil lead is most commonly a mix of powdered graphite and clay; it was invented by Nicolas-Jacques Conté in 1795. It is chemically unrelated to the metal lead, whose ores had a similar appearance, hence the continuation of the name.