* Graphite demand seen rising for EV battery market
* Balama project will cut into Chinese dominance
By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, May 9 (Reuters) - Australian-listed Syrah Resources is targeting the market for electric vehicle batteries with its Balama graphite mine in Mozambique, which started production in November.
A global scramble is on for commodities such as graphite, cobalt and lithium, which are among the key components in the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used to power mobile devices and electric vehicles.
“The growth market and our focus in the coming years is very much in the lithium-ion battery segment,” Syrah Chief Executive Shaun Verner told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Verner said Syrah saw the market for natural-flake graphite more than doubling over the next eight years to 1.6 million tonnes from 700,000 tonnes currently, with the battery industry accounting for the bulk of that demand.
Currently battery demand is about 200,000 tonnes or around 30 percent of the market.
“About 70 percent of our production is ... the smaller flake in demand in the battery sector,” Verner said.
Capacity for the Balama mine and plant is 350,000 tonnes annually and the company is looking at 160,000 to 180,000 tonnes in the first year, reaching full production in three years and cutting into the dominance of China, where 60 percent of global supply currently originates.
By 2020 it will be providing 35 to 40 percent of global supply if current projections remain on target.
“In our first four months of operation we have exported to 13 countries across Asia,” Verner said, with most going to China, Japan and South Korea. In Europe, Germany has been the biggest consumer.
The resource is close to the surface and easy to access.
The graphite is exported through the port of Nacala, taken there by road on a 500 km (300 mile) journey from the mine in the interior of northern Mozambique.
South Africa’s Grinrod has a logistics contract to provide road transport and warehousing.
Infrastructure challenges in the southern African country, which is extremely poor and underdeveloped, have stymied the growth of its coal sector. Mozambique also has huge offshore gas reserves that are being brought to commercial production.
Parts of Mozambique’s remote north and central regions have been hit in recent years by security incidents and banditry but Verner said the project had not been impacted.
“We have not seen any security concerns right through the period from exploration to pre-development, construction and now into operations,” he said. (Editing by Mark Potter)