Metal Tech News - February 1, 2023
Toward its goal of establishing an all-American supply chain for the graphite that goes into the lithium-ion batteries powering the transition to electric vehicles charged with low-carbon energy, Graphite One Inc. is working with two U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories for the testing of active anode material made from graphite sourced from Graphite Creek and investigate the potential of extracting other critical minerals from this world-class deposit in western Alaska.
Considered by the U.S. Geological Survey to be home of the largest known graphite deposit in the United States, the Graphite Creek project about 50 miles north of the Alaska gold mining town of Nome has the potential to be a significant domestic source of this critical battery mineral for more than a century.
According to the most recent calculation, Graphite Creek hosts 32.5 million metric tons of measured and indicated resources averaging 5.25% (1.7 million metric tons) graphite, plus 254.7 million metric tons of inferred resource averaging 5.11% (13 million metric tons) graphite.
The measured and indicated resources alone would support a mine capable of producing roughly 52,000 metric tons of graphite per year for 26 years, according to a 2022 prefeasibility study on developing a mine at Graphite Creek and advanced graphite materials processing and recycling plant in Washington.
The inferred resources that lie immediately to the northeast would support more than 200 years of additional mining at the production rates outlined in the PFS, and the mineralization continues in both directions.
"With only about 7% of our 16-kilometer (10 miles) geophysical anomaly incorporated in the PFS, which shows an after-tax NPV (net present value) of US$1.4 billion, our 2022 field program gives us confidence the Graphite Creek project is truly a generational strategic resource," said Huston.
At least three automakers have taken notice and are testing Graphite One material for use in the anodes of lithium-ion batteries for EVs.
More details on Graphite One's proposed advanced graphite materials supply chain can be read at Graphite One considers larger operations in the January 6, 2023 edition of North of 60 Mining News.
Graphite One's endeavors to establish a supply chain for the spherical coated graphite that serves as the anode material in lithium-ion batteries, along with other advanced graphite products needed by American manufacturers and the military, is being bolstered by a new agreement with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington.
"We are delighted to work with one of the U.S. government's premier national labs," said Graphite One President and CEO Anthony Huston.
Located in the same Pacific Northwest state as Graphite One plans to build its advanced graphite processing and recycling facility, PNNL will test and verify Graphite One material for conformity to EV battery specifications.
This will provide battery makers considering sourcing Graphite Creek material for lithium batteries with independent verification of the material's performance. It will also provide DOE with data to consider as it continues to ensure the U.S. has enough raw materials to achieve the climate objectives laid out by the White House.
The first materials to be tested at PNNL will be the anode active materials now being produced as samples by Sunrise New Energy Material Co. Ltd., an experienced graphite anode materials producer working with Graphite One on the design, development, and operation of the Washington facility.
Graphite One samples that are tested and verified by PNNL will be sent to EV manufacturers for evaluation as a possible source of battery materials.
"Given PNNL's experience in developing renewable energy solutions, and the importance of graphite to the major renewable energy applications as well as the energy storage systems required for the national grid, Graphite One sees this as a major step in our supply chain strategy," Huston added.
Less than a week after announcing its materials agreement with PNNL, Graphite One announced that it is also working with Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.
This second national labs agreement is investigating the potential of using Sandia's award-winning green technologies to extract other critical minerals associated with Graphite Creek mineralization.
Researchers at Sandia Lab have developed a method of extracting rare earths and other critical minerals from coal byproducts with three simple ingredients – carbon dioxide, water, and food-grade citric acid.
"This technique not only recovers rare-earth metals in an environmentally harmless manner but would actually improve environments by reducing the toxicity of coal waste dotting America," Guangping Xu, lead Sandia researcher on the extraction method, said in 2021.
R&D World magazine bestowed the Sandia team with the GOLD Special Recognition in Green Technology award for the environmentally benign extraction of critical metals using supercritical CO2-based solvent for critical mineral extraction.
While coal and graphite have very different uses, they have one thing in common – they are both made of carbon.
The Sandia team has already considered using its method to extract critical minerals from coal oil and gas shales while sequestering CO2 in these buried carbon-rich formations.
"Using existing oil and gas fracking wells, the citric acid and supercritical carbon dioxide can be used cost-effectively to mine metals while disposing of carbon dioxide below ground," said Mark Rigali, who worked with Xu on applying the method to oil and gas shales.
It is believed this same green extraction technology can be applied to extract critical minerals from Graphite Creek ore, which could provide an ancillary income stream for Graphite One while maximizing the Alaska deposit's potential to supply minerals critical to the U.S.
"We are pleased that Sandia will apply its path-breaking process to Graphite Creek material," said Huston. "We are excited about the potential for value-added applications which identify flake graphite from Graphite Creek as a unique resource, and Sandia's process will provide us important data on that potential with implications for how we unlock the value of G1's additional critical minerals."