Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government


December 19, 2017

Graphite is a form of pure carbon that normally occurs as black crystal flakes and masses. It has important properties, such as chemical inertness, thermal stability, high electrical conductivity, and lubricity (slipperiness) that make it suitable for many industrial applications, including electronics, lubricants, metallurgy, and steelmaking. For some of these uses, no suitable substitutes are available. Steelmaking and refractory applications in metallurgy use the largest amount of produced graphite; however, emerging technology uses in large-scale fuel cell, battery, and lightweight high-strength composite applications could substantially increase world demand for graphite.

Graphite ores are classified as “amorphous” (microcrystalline), and “crystalline” (“flake” or “lump or chip”) based on the ore’s crystallinity, grain-size, and morphology. All graphite deposits mined today formed from metamorphism of carbonaceous sedimentary rocks, and the ore type is determined by the geologic setting. Thermally metamorphosed coal is the usual source of amorphous graphite. Disseminated crystalline flake graphite is mined from carbonaceous metamorphic rocks, and lump or chip graphite is mined from veins in high-grade metamorphic regions. Because graphite is chemically inert and nontoxic, the main environmental concerns associated with graphite mining are inhalation of fine-grained dusts, including silicate and sulfide mineral particles, and hydrocarbon vapors produced during the mining and processing of ore. Synthetic graphite is manufactured from hydrocarbon sources using high-temperature heat treatment, and it is more expensive to produce than natural graphite.

Production of natural graphite is dominated by China, India, and Brazil, which export graphite worldwide. China provides approximately 67 percent of worldwide output of natural graphite, and, as the dominant exporter, has the ability to set world prices. China has significant graphite reserves, and China’s graphite production is expected to increase, although rising labor costs and some mine production problems are developing. China is expected to continue to be the dominant exporter for the near future. Mexico and Canada export graphite mainly to the United States, which has not had domestic production of natural graphite since the 1950s. Most graphite deposits in the United States are too small, low-grade, or remote to be of commercial value in the near future, and the likelihood of discovering larger, higher-grade, or favorably located domestic deposits is unlikely. The United States is a major producer of synthetic graphite.

Publication Year 2017
Title Graphite
DOI 10.3133/pp1802J
Authors Gilpin R. Robinson, Jane M. Hammarstrom, Donald W. Olson
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Professional Paper
Series Number 1802
Index ID pp1802J
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center