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March 17, 2016 | Australia

Global Window For Australia’s Graphite Hopefuls Focus Next Tuesday Of First National Conference

Kevin Skinner

Just where Australia’s burgeoning graphite sector sits in the global market for the in-demand commodity and its technological derivatives, including graphene, will be the subject next week of the sector’s first ever national conference.

It will be hosted at a time technology and research organisations around the world are scrambling to get their first foothold on long-term reliable and affordable supplies of graphite. It is a need driven in no small measure by a growth curve underpinned by a new era of massive lithium-ion battery demand and a suite of emerging high end technological applications across traditional and new graphite opportunities.

The event is the 2016 inaugural Paydirt Australian Graphite Conference – a one day forum to be hosted at Perth’s Novotel Langley Hotel on Tuesday 22 March.

“The emerging crop of Australian graphite juniors with their deposits in various jurisdictions here and overseas, can be part of the future demand answer,” Conference Convenor, Mr Bill Repard, said today.

“The understanding around graphite, however, is that it is a commodity that is less about the equity market’s historic benchmarks of tonnes and grade and more about flake size, purity and product specifications,” Mr Repard said.

“This has often led to confusion about just what are graphite’s prospects, just where the Australian plays fit in in a global sense and whether we are well positioned for a lead role or a runners-up role, such is the rising competition in this hot but less defined space.”

Tuesday’s program is designed in part to help counter that confusion.

“Without a traditional trading market, companies have been left to source their own off-take agreements and even in this space, investors are struggling to comprehend exactly what it is these companies are proposing to supply,” Mr Repard said.

“Competing companies are making differing and even conflicting claims regarding what precisely it is that off-take customers are looking for.

“This is not to suggest companies are being misleading, just that even for those involved in the market, the signs are difficult to decipher.

“China currently dominates all facets of the graphite market from mining to processing into spherical graphite and onto its eventual application.

“There are a number of now emerging international rivals who are intent on breaking that stranglehold and establishing their own spherical graphite and battery-making plants,” Mr Repard said.

“The challenge until now for these companies has been securing reliable, affordable supplies of graphite. If the emerging crop of Australian juniors can offer a solution to this problem, widespread adoption of natural graphite may turbo-charge graphite demand.

“The same reasoning can be applied to other applications. While the lithium-ion battery market provides the most easily identifiable market, other uses for graphite are growing.

“Expandable graphite has been widely adopted as a fire retardant in high-end electrical goods and now building materials in China. As with batteries, the market has been stunted by supply.

“Expandable graphite makes use of the larger flake graphite products and while China is still the world’s largest producer of flake graphite, the quality of its production has been in decline for years.

“Even Chinese end-users are eager to find new sources of supply and add to this, the staggering technological opportunities that the graphite derivative, graphene, is now offering,” Mr Repard said.

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