Africa’s graphite exports to China rise by 170% in H1 2019

Syrah’s Balama graphite operation in Mozambique. Image from Syrah Resources.

Graphite suppliers in Africa are ramping up production to meet China’s surging demand for the battery material. During H1 2019, natural graphite exports from Africa to China rose by more than 170%, according to data compiled by Roskill.

Leading the way is Mozambique, which produces mostly the small and medium size flakes required for battery applications. The southern African nation exported 100 kt through the first six months of 2019, 82% of which went to China. To put that into perspective, the country exported 51.8 kt all of 2018, and merely 0.8 kt the year before.

Much of the exponential increase in Mozambique’s graphite shipments can be attributed to Syrah Resources and its Balama project, which came on line late 2017. The project produced 104 kt last year and 92 kt already in H1 2019.

Roskill estimates that demand for natural graphite from the battery sector is set to grow by 19% annually

Roskill estimates that demand for natural graphite from the battery sector is set to grow by 19% annually from 2018-2028. This would bring total graphite demand to nearly 1.7 Mt, so even if the Balama project reaches its full capacity of 350 kt, additional sources of graphite will be needed in the long term.

For the larger flakes, their end-use markets (fire retardants, gaskets etc.) are much smaller than batteries, but demand from China is still growing. Madagascar is one of the major producers of large flake graphite, and shipments from the island have increased rapidly in recent years, from 9.4 kt in 2017 to 46.9 kt in 2018, and now 32.5 kt in H1 2019. Notable graphite producers in Madagascar include Tirupati Graphite Group, Établissements Gallois and Bass Metals of Australia.

A country that is on its way to becoming a major producer is Tanzania, where the government has recently reissued mining licenses, allowing a number of projects to move forward this year.

One of those is Black Rock Mining’s Mahenge project, on which a new definitive feasibility study (DFS) was completed in July, increasing its graphite concentrate production estimate to 340 kt per year from 250 kt. Walkabout Resources also released an updated DFS this year and is preparing the Lindi Jumbo mine site for construction. 

Many other Tanzania projects are gathering investment interest, which could push Africa-China graphite trading even further.