As Demand for EVs Soars, North American Graphite Processing Ramps Up Amidst Shortage Fears

February 23, 2022 by Ahmad Ezzeddine

With China stretched and anode-quality graphite processing nearly non-existent in the West, Syrah Resources, Graphex Technologies and Nouveau Monde Graphite are developing facilities to fill the void.

As the transition to electric vehicles continues to gain pace, automakers are engaging in a race to acquire the materials critical in EVs’ lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. Chief among them is spherical graphite, which constitutes the bulk of the anode and is sourced almost entirely from China.

Recently, that stark dependence on Chinese production has come under increased scrutiny. The country, grappling with its own shortage of coal and worsening air pollution, may struggle to keep pace with demand over the coming year. The result could be a graphite supply deficit of nearly 80,000 tons.


In a net-zero scenario, at current production levels the IMF predicts a significant graphite shortfall by 2050. Image [modified] used courtesy of the IMF


That in mind, automakers such as Tesla have begun to turn to companies able to produce purified spherical graphite, or active anode material (AAM), at processing facilities closer to home. Let’s take a look at a few of the noteworthy projects coming online.


Syrah Expands its Louisiana Plant

Australian mining company Syrah Resources, which in December inked a purchasing agreement with Tesla, has an existing 50,000 sq. ft plant in Vidalia, Louisiana. In preparation of a planned 11,250 ton per year output of AAM, the company plans to expand the plant by an additional 180,000 sq ft. The added real estate is estimated to cost $176 million, in the process creating 36 full-time jobs and an additional 52 indirect positions.

Production at the facility, should it proceed according to plan, is slated to begin by the third quarter of 2023. Once complete, the site could be the first active AAM processing facility in the United States.


Syrah’s facilities at its Balama Project, in Mozambique. Image used courtesy of Syrah Resources 


The company sources its graphite from its Balama project site in Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique. There, the graphite is mined and concentrated before being shipped to the Port of New Orleans. It is then trucked to the AAM facility in Vidalia.


Motor City Once More? A Processing Facility in Michigan

In January, graphite-supplier Graphex Technologies and Michigan-based Emerald Energy Solutions entered into a memorandum of understanding to construct and operate a new AAM processing facility.  Graphex is the wholly-owned North American subsidiary of Graphex Group, which is based in Hong Kong and produces more than 10,000 tons per year of graphite AAM at its site in Heilongjiang Province, China.

The companies are considering a number of sites both in and outside of Michigan, and expect to make a final decision next month. Graphex expects that Emerald, responsible for the whole construction process, from site assessment to mechanical operation of the facility, could produce an active plant as soon as the second quarter of 2023.

Once complete, the site is planned for an initial capacity of 10,000 tons per year. Should demand increase, that number could quickly double, Graphex said in a press release announcing the joint venture. According to the MOU, the company will provide the raw material, patents, trade secrets and technical expertise to make that happen. 


Nouveau Monde Graphite Eyes Sustainability near Montréal 

Nouveau Monde Graphite, a Canadian mining company based in Québec, Canada, is developing a vertically integrated production facility in Bécancour, 150 km northeast of Montréal. The company owns complete interest in the open-pit Matawinie project in Saint-Michel-des-Saints, just a few hours outside Bécancour, where it plans to utilize entirely electric mining equipment and an all-EV fleet by 2028.


Nouveau Monde's facility in Bécancour. Image used courtesy of Nouveau Monde Graphite


In a bid to produce entirely sustainable AAM, Nouveau Monde will also harness hydroelectric power produced nearby to run its facility, which it is designing to be carbon-neutral and virtually waste-free. With the site fully active, the company plans to deliver 42,000 tons of anode-quality graphite per year by 2025, making it easily the largest domestic producer in North America. 

And that capacity could expand to as many as 100,000 tons per annum, the company says, to meet market demands. 


Feature image used courtesy of Audi AG, via nature