What problems should we pay attention to in the development of graphite technology?
Recently, on Sinopec's annual results teleconference, the company representative answered questions about the oil prices, and said that the future trend of oil prices is still very uncertain, and it is expected to be around $100 this year and $85 next year respectively.
Sinopec, "There are many factors affecting oil prices at the moment, including geopolitics, macroeconomic trends, the implementation of the policy of OPEC+, the strength of the US DOLLAR and so on. We see a lot of uncertainty in the future oil prices. It is impossible to predict the accurate price, but a general trend could be estimated."
According to Sinopec, international institutions generally have a forecast of around $100 this year and around $85 next year in the oil prices. As geopolitical problems and other issues ease next year, oil prices will be lower than this year.
The volatile oil prices in the international market will continue to affect lots of industries and the supply of many products, like the natural graphite.
According to the above analysis and discussion, the author believes that when using natural graphite as raw material to develop artificial graphite, the following issues need to be paid attention to in terms of technology:
Surface modification of natural graphite. Compared with carbonaceous materials such as petroleum coke and pitch coke, natural graphite has fewer oxygen-containing functional groups on the surface, lower activity, and poorer binding force than coal tar pitch.
Therefore, with natural graphite, especially natural flake graphite as the main raw material, the carbon graphite products prepared according to the artificial graphite production process inevitably have the problem of poor mechanical properties. Appropriate surface treatment of natural graphite is required to increase the content of oxygen-containing functional groups on its surface.
Purification of natural graphite. The purity of carbonaceous raw materials such as petroleum coke and pitch coke is relatively high, and the ash content is usually less than 0.5%, while the purity of natural graphite treated by flotation is relatively low, and the carbon content is usually below 90%.
Therefore, carbon graphite products prepared from natural graphite are often limited in their application fields due to their low purity and poor comprehensive performance. High purification treatment of natural graphite is one of the ways to solve this problem.
The cost of chemical purification is low, but the water consumption in the washing process is large and the pollution is large, while high-temperature purification has the problem of high cost. Some people also think that block graphite can be prepared according to the production process of artificial graphite, and then subjected to high-temperature heat treatment above 2500 ℃.
While the "carbon" phase is graphitized, the impurities in the natural graphite phase are removed, but firstly, the production cost is increased, and secondly, the defects formed after the gasification of impurities often cause the performance of the product to decline.
The particle size of natural graphite. To improve process performance and product performance, in addition to fine-structure carbon-graphite products, most carbon-graphite products need to use different grades of carbonaceous raw materials in the batching process. For some large-sized products, the particle size of carbonaceous raw materials even reaches The flotation-treated natural graphite is often in the form of a fine powder, and the particle size is only tens to hundreds of microns. Therefore, the use of natural graphite as a raw material is limited to the preparation of fine-structure carbon graphite products.
Although natural microcrystalline graphite with different particle sizes can be obtained, due to its low purity and high cost of high-temperature purification, there is no report on the preparation of coarse-structure carbon graphite products using natural microcrystalline graphite as raw material. To solve the problem of the lack of large particles of natural graphite, it is recommended to use the "secondary coke" process in the treatment of carbon black raw materials in the artificial graphite industry.
Volume shrinkage during preparation. In the preparation process of artificial graphite, especially in the graphitization process, since the arrangement of carbon atoms gradually changes to a regular graphite structure, the volume shrinkage of the product is relatively large.
The advantage of this volume shrinkage is that it can increase the density of the product, but when the shrinkage is uneven, it is easy to cause the product to crack. When natural graphite is used as raw material, the density and mechanical properties of the product are lower due to the smaller volume shrinkage during carbonization and graphitization.
In addition, when developing artificial graphite with natural graphite as raw material, it is also necessary to consider the issue of comprehensive production cost.
Since the price of flotation natural graphite is similar to that of calcined petroleum coke and pitch coke, and then purified to a carbon content of 98%, the price of natural graphite is nearly twice that of calcined petroleum coke and pitch coke. In addition to the above-mentioned several carbon graphite products that have formed a large industry, the proposal of most technical routes and technical measures will greatly increase the production cost.
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Europe has been facing the gas shortage problem since the second half of 2021. The worsening situation in Russia and Ukraine has reduced Russian gas shipments to Europe, leading to a doubling of European gas prices. Energy shortages have sent electricity prices soaring. For these reasons, it is predicted that the price of the natural graphite will continue to increase.