Sri Lanka truly is one of the best kept secrets when it comes to graphite mining with countries such as China, Russia and Russia being more well known. Evidence shows that commercial graphite mining in Sri Lanka has been happening since the 1800s. One of the oldest deposits in the country was first discovered in 1675.
Graphite is a wonder material that now proves almost invaluable to a whole range of modern industries. It is an allotrope of carbon with layers of carbon atoms, which slide over each other, giving graphite its soft quality. Graphite is stable when within ordinary atmospheric conditions. As it is a semimetal it is an electrical conductor, owing to the electrons between the layers of carbon atoms. Thanks to this composition graphite has high conductivity, which is why it is used in batteries, solar panels and electrodes. It is also used in pencils, paints and lubricants. There are a range of applications for natural graphite, all while being completely environmentally friendly.
There are two main ways to obtain graphite – natural graphite through mining natural sources and synthetic graphite through a production process. Sri Lanka has a natural source which is of a very high quality. There are two types of graphite mining, one being the open pit or surface quarry method and the other being the underground method. The different types of graphite are formed based on the different geological regions they are formed in.
Sri Lankan graphite is naturally sourced and is of the highest quality crystalline graphite amongst graphite materials with near crystalline perfection. The vein graphite or lump graphite sourced in Sri Lanka is mined underground and the deposits are found in high grade metamorphic rocks. Dating back to the Archean age the graphite is over 2500 years old which is why Ceylon graphite is so special. It has an extremely high grade with over 90% fixed carbon, at times reaching purities of over 99.5% in situ.
Graphite mining in Sri Lanka is known only to a few even though it is recognised as amongst some of the highest grades in the world. It has been confirmed as suitable for easy upgradability for a range of applications such as for electric vehicles, battery storage markets, healthcare, coatings and paints and the construction sector.
Vein Graphite – The name is derived from the fact that it is found in the veins and fissures in the enclosing rock and is formed from the direct deposition of solid, graphitic carbon from subterranean fluids of a very high temperature known as pegmatitic fluids.
In Sri Lanka graphite production costs are kept low thanks to it being one of the purest forms of graphite to be found. This keeps the milling and refining costs low, making Sri Lankan mining costs a fraction of those elsewhere in the world. Comparatively cheap production costs together with top quality graphite make Sri Lanka a key player in the global market.
Graphite mines – In Sri Lanka graphite mines are mostly located in the north western and south western areas of the island. Working pits can be found in Matugama, Aluketiya, Agalawatta and Meegahatenna. Kahatagaha graphite mine is one of the leading producers of high purity natural vein graphite. Ceylon Graphite is a public listed company that is involved in exploration and production of graphite in Sri Lanka.
Graphite production – Sri Lanka has a very pure form of graphite known as vein graphite or plumbago. Sri Lanka is the only area to produce this material in commercial quantities.
Thanks to its pure form resulting in lower productions costs Sri Lanka is a great source for graphite which the world is steadily beginning to appreciate. While it is one of the best kept secrets currently as the demand for graphite and graphene keeps increasing, it may not stay a secret for long.