Imerys turns to Africa for its graphite future; first move by major to diversify from China

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EXCLUSIVE: Imerys Graphite & Carbon, a subsidiary of Imerys SA – the world’s largest diversified producer of niche minerals and metals – has entered into a joint venture with Gecko Namibia to develop the Okanjande project in northern Namibia.

Production from the flake graphite deposit is due to begin in 2017 and processing will take place on the site of Solvay’s previously operating Okorusu fluorspar plant near Otjiwarango.

The project will form a core part of Imerys Graphite & Carbon’s growth strategy, targeting production which can be sold into the growing lithium ion battery sector, the company explained exclusively to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

The move signifies the first investment from an existing producer outside of China in new flake graphite capacity.

With traditional markets faltering over recent years, and China proving more competitive in the production of spherical graphite, few others have committed to challenging Chinese producers for market share in the rapidly growing spherical market.

As a leader in the production, processing and trading of flake graphite the JV can be seen as a clear move to challenge China’s dominance and provide a near-term alternative to consumers outside of China seeking to diversify their supply chains.

The move will also serve as a statement to junior miners seeking to capture a share of a market which is expected to grow considerably over the next five years.

Hugues Jacquemin, Vice President & General Manager of Imerys Graphite & Carbon, told Benchmark: “This industry is growing. We are already a well-established player and we are developing fast, organically and by acquisition. This JV will help us better serve customers with the objective to grow our market share.”

Out with the old…

The partnership with Gecko Namibia, a junior development company in Africa, may be seen as a left-field choice by some in the market, with many expecting the company to invest in something closer to their existing asset in North America.

However, with battery demand expected to grow quickly approaching 2020, time was of the essence.

More importantly, Gecko’s project in Namibia was chosen because the graphite has very similar characteristics to that of Lac des Iles, the company told Benchmark.

The JV is targeting an annual output in the region of 20,000 tpa, similar to the capacity of Lac des Iles, and Imerys has already begun work on site, having already implemented Imerys’ safety system.

A quick build up towards production in 2017 will allow Imerys to take advantage of the project economics in order to complement operations in Canada.

These economics will be centered upon significant growth in adoption of EVs and other energy storage applications which require a graphite anode.

At this point, it is unclear whether Imerys will look to begin spherical graphite production themselves or sell into established spherical graphite companies.

The impact of this development will be discussed at Graphite Supply Chain 2016, 11-13 November, Newport Beach, CA, USA. Click here for more information. Benchmark Members automatically receive a discount. 

One thought on “Imerys turns to Africa for its graphite future; first move by major to diversify from China

  1. I would advise Hugues Jacquemin, Vice President & General Manager of Imerys Graphite & Carbon, to look further afield in Africa to achieve critical mass, considering soaring demand for energy storage capacity expected to kick in with the advent of the fast expanding solar energy sector!

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