Graphite has been used by artists and writers for centuries. It is a mineral that can be used either as a pigment or filler material in artworks such as paintings or sculptures.
If you're not interested in the possible uses of graphite in art, then read on to find out more about its properties and history. If you are interested, please skip ahead to the section entitled "Graphite Properties". There is one specific type of graphite called "pencil lead" which can be found all over the world. This type of graphite was first mined from England around 1660 AD for use in pencils. Originally, graphite was mined in Poland, with the name also coming from that country.
In the 1980s, because of its softness and malleability, graphite was used in the production of computer chips. So many miners moved to places such as Silicon Valley to work in chip plants. Graphite is a layered mineral with one-atom thick layers of carbon atoms. The layers can be seen under a microscope to provide a trichromatic effect which is why it's often referred to as "Sheet Iron".
The different layers of graphite have different colours. The most common colours are black, grey, brown and grey-white. The hardness of the layers in graphite is 6 to 7 (on a scale from 1 to 10). This means that it is harder than steel but not as hard as diamond. The colour is due to the thickness of the layer and the amount of impurities in the crystal itself.
The term "grade" used with graphite refers to the purity or purity levels of this mineral. As you might expect, there are grades for pencil lead, grades for carbon black pigment and also grades for electronics purposes such as use in computer chips or transistors.
The most common grade of pencil lead is called C. It basically means "carbon" and it is reduced by several steps from the natural material extracted from a graphite deposit. The process of refining graphite through various steps is called "crushing". First, large nodules of graphite are dug out and they are mined in great quantities. These nodules are crushed to produce a granular material. This granular material is then melted into a liquid at temperatures above 800 degrees Celsius (1,472 Fahrenheit), which involves the use of pressure and additives added into the molten substance. The liquid begins to crystallise out as it cools down under pressure, creating the final shape of pencil lead.
Graphite is an important component in the refining of steel. If you buy a beer can, chances are that it was made with steel that had graphite in it. Graphite can also be found in lots of things like golf clubs and lead pencils, to name but a few. Because graphite is such a crucial part to so many things, the demand for it is high - especially when it comes to batteries! We are currently facing challenges when it comes to refining Graphite because we don't have enough mines that will produce enough for us.
On top of this, we need more rig workers who will mine the ore and we need miners who will work with them. Either way, we need graphite! The amount of graphite that is mined every year is around 82 million tons. This amount is enough to make 43% of the world's current graphite demand. Of this amount, only 29% of it is refined. Methods used to refine graphite include Pressure Refining, Flotation and Electrorefining. In Electrorefining, the ore is put in an electrode which produces carbon nanotubes and graphene which are then separated in a second process by distillation. This process uses electricity to separate the various types of carbon and can use a lot less water than traditional refining techniques which makes it more efficient.