Sri Lanka’s Black Gold
Posted on August 4th, 2019

By Michael Gregson Courtesy Ceylon Today


Sri Lanka could soon be in for a windfall because of the worldwide surge in demand for electric cars. At least 125 million electric vehicles are expected to be travelling global highways by 2030, which means the world is going to need a lot more graphite in the coming decade and beyond. And Sri Lanka is sitting on heaps of the stuff.


Graphite mining dates back 200 years in Sri Lanka, peaking during the First and  Second World Wars, when production hit 35,000 tons a year.  Since then, the industry has been in steady decline on the island. By 2012, production had fallen by 90% to less than 3,500 tons. However, that could all be about to change.  That’s because graphite is essential for the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles, not to mention the growing number of devices that use the same type of battery.


Earlier this month Ceylon Graphite Corp announced that it had discovered a large, wide crystalline graphite vein at its project in Sri Lanka.


The Vancouver-based exploration company found a 55-centimetre-wide vein at the H1 site in Meewitiya during the digging of a new shaft. The new discovery follows the recent find of another large crystalline graphite vein measuring over 30 cm in width.


The company is confident that these discoveries demonstrate that there is commercially mineable graphite.  Independent testing shows that the graphite is 99.9% pure. This makes it ideal for a wide range of products, including batteries.  We continue to find large crystalline graphite veins with purity that has not been seen elsewhere in the world,” said Ceylon Graphite CEO Bharat Parashar.


Prashar added that Ceylon expects to be in commercial production shortly.


Purest in the world


Graphite mined in Sri Lanka is known to be some of the purest in the world, but currently accounts for less than 1% of the world graphite production. Sri Lanka has the purest graphite on earth,” says Parasher. Unlike other places, which have flake and amorphous graphite, Sri Lanka has vein graphite. Vein graphite is like the veins in your body – its continuous flow, like a mini stream underground coming up from the core of the earth to the surface.”


Sri Lanka looks poised to benefit from the growth in demand for graphite as the world looks for alternatives to fossil fuels.  Demand is especially high in the US. With the growing number of EVs expected to drive lithium-ion battery demand. The Benchmark Mineral Intelligence agency estimates that the amount of graphite needed for lithium-ion batteries in America will rocket to 1.75 million metric tons by 2028, a nine-fold increase over 2017 levels.


Decarbonisation


Those who control these critical raw materials and those who possess the manufacturing and processing know-how, will hold the balance of industrial power in the 21st Century auto and energy storage industries,” wrote Benchmark’s Managing Director Simon Moores. The head of Ceylon Graphite agrees. Decarbonisation is taking place in a big way across the entire globe,” said Parasher. Decarbonisation is taking place not only in the electric vehicle space but also in energy storage in all forms of our daily life. We see graphite as the new oil.”


The Sri Lankan Government appears keen to boost graphite production, but red tape has been getting in the way.


I have been given to understand about some issues faced by the Sri Lankan mining sector. The mining licences issued have to be renewed every year, is one complaint. Annual renewal is maintained by the Government to safeguard our mining sector.


However, it appears that international investors welcome less frequent renewals. Global investors also welcome specialised mining licenses rather than general licences in Sri Lanka,” said former Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen. Graphite, the dark grey to jet black material found in pencils, is an immensely valuable commodity and


Sri Lanka is uniquely blessed with an accessible and very pure supply. However, it is even more valuable for export once it has been processed and gains added value.  


One such product is graphene, a form of carbon consisting of planar sheets which are just one atom thick, with the atoms arranged in a honeycomb-shaped lattice. It is the thinnest and strongest material known and another
Sri Lankan Company, Ceylon Graphene Technologies is optimistic for the future.

 CT Web 02:00 AM Aug 05 2019

One Response to “Sri Lanka’s Black Gold”

  1. Ratanapala Says:

    Medapola Mines – Dumbara, Ellagawa

    In the early 20th Century British operated a Graphite Mine under the name Medapola Ltd (with registered office in 20 Copthall Avenue, London) in a place called Dumbara.

    Dumbara ( different from place by the same name near Kandy) is 4 miles past Ingiriya on A8 Road to Ratnapura. Once you go past the little Pattini Dewala on the roadside is a bridge that takes one to the other side of Kalu Ganga. The mines are situated by the rocky stream alongside the hill side. The land belongs to Nedun Viharaya in Kiriella and was leased out to do mining at that time.

    My grandfather Arthur Louie Daundasekara and his elder bother Edward Daundasekara were associated with the working of this mining complex. The complex was managed by German Mining Engineers but they were considered suspect as the First World War broke out and later deported by the British. Medapola Mine continued for a while but was closed down when cheaper graphite was discovered in Madagaskar in the thirties.

    There are many abandoned mine shafts as well as air shafts, bored deep into the rocky interior of the hills. There is also a place where they turned a water wheel and generated electricity to give illumination as well as to power the airflow fans. I have been inside this mine during my younger days. The mine, as well as the rocky stream, still remain as places close and dear to my heart.

    The place is reputed to have produced crystalline graphite of highest purity in abundance and a couple of thousand workers, men and women employed for mining, sorting graphite and in the transportation to the riverside, then across the river by ferry and by bullock cart to wherever from where plumbago, as it was called, was exported.

    There are many witty and sometimes tragic stories associated with the working of this mining complex as well as of the type of people who were employed to do underground work – some of them criminals escaping the long arm of the law!

    I still remember two lines from a Pathal Kaviya

    BASNAHIRATA DONA DEKA GAMAN KALE’
    WISTHARA KIYAM DUMBARA MINIRAN PATHALE’

    NOW GRAPHITE IS BACK IN VOGUE AS A SOUGHT-AFTER MATERIAL FOR THE PRODUCTION OF RECHARGEABLE ELECTRIC BATTERIES, IT IS TIME THAT AUTHORITIES TOOK ANOTHER LOOK AT THIS ABANDONED MINING COMPLEX.

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