Sri Lanka, the teardrop island of the Indian Ocean, is simply a treasure trove. Owing to this reason, this developing nation has been able to serve the world in varying aspects astonishing many. And yes, the superior gems it offers, good quality fish it exports, first-class spices it owns, and the finest agricultural products it brings out, surely take the good name of this country worldwide. And why not? The graphite in Sri Lanka competes with all the above mentioned, surprising the world with its amazing quality!
Thus, we thought of focusing this read on the graphite industry in Sri Lanka. Of course, there is so much that you need to know with regard! Its history, the present production state, and the quality of the Sri Lankan products are worth getting to know about. So, without further exaggerations, let us begin our exploration of the graphite industry in Sri Lanka. Here we go!
Graphite Industry in Sri Lanka
Since the Dutch colonized Sri Lanka, the beginning of the graphite mining industry in Sri Lanka happened. Back at that time, Sri Lanka provided graphite to the world market as the only country in the world to supply the purest form of them in commercial quantities. People called this purest form vein or lump graphite. Yet, Sri Lanka contributes less than 1% of the world’s graphite production as of now.
Sri Lankans call graphite “plumbago”. The Sinhala peasants of Sri Lanka who lived in the past used to do mining in northwestern and southwestern areas of the country. They used primitive methods to do mining. Moreover, the stories about mining have made rich folklore in Sri Lanka about this very industry.
In 1903, the establishment of a department to keep records regarding all the pits, shallow workings, and mines happened. Accordingly, the inspector of mines had the responsibility and authority of this department. Later, they named this department the Geological Survey Department. In 1922, the conversion of this department under the name of the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau took place.
Graphite Mining in Sri Lanka
The production of graphite happens mainly in the following two forms.
- Mining process to find the natural graphite with the highest degree of crystalline perfection
- The manufacturing process to obtain synthetic graphite
From these two types, Sri Lanka has the ability to provide natural graphite to the market. The vein graphite from Sri Lanka has obtained a great reputation in the global market for its remarkable quality.
From the two methods of graphite production, Sri Lanka uses mining as the major method. Moreover, mining follows two techniques as open pit mining or surface quarrying and underground mining globally.
The types of graphite change according to the geological area they form in. According to the different types present in Sri Lanka, vein graphite mining uses underground mining. They sometimes reach a purity level of over 99.5%. Because of this reason, the cost of milling and refining goes low. As a final result, the graphite mined from Sri Lanka has a low cost and the highest quality.
Where is Graphite Found in Sri Lanka?
Vein graphite deposits are commonly visible in Sri Lanka’s Precambrian high-grade metamorphic terrain. It is dominated by granulite-facies rocks. Moreover, Sri Lanka has the following 3 modes of graphite occurrence.
- Disseminated flakes in the country rocks
- In the form of lenses, pods, and vugs
- As veins occupying fractures in the rocks
The source of carbon in all the above modes has proved to form microorganisms that live in the Precambrian sedimentary basins. The Precambrian sedimentary basin of Sri Lanka happens to be located in the highland series. They consist of sandstones, limestones, and shales. Thus, these areas have graphite in abundance.
However, at present Sri Lanka has discovered 3 graphite mines in the following areas.
The following sections will provide you more information about these places.
1. Kahatagaha Graphite Mine
Kahatagaha mine is one of the leading high-quality vein graphite-producing mines in Sri Lanka at present. It has 99% full crystallized mined graphite. Further, this contains graphite in the following different forms.
Similarly, this mine has become special due to its low ash content and high carbon crystalline graphite. Thus, it astonishes the world market with the quality of its natural product.
To reach Kahatagaha mine, anyone has to travel 90 km away from Colombo towards Maduragala, Dodangaslanda which belongs to the Northwestern province of Sri Lanka.
2. Bogala Graphite Mine
The Bogala mine has become immortal in folklore. In the same way, it is the most well-known mine among the local community of Sri Lanka. The discovery of this mine happened in 1675 and it managed to enjoy a higher position in the world market as a world-class mine since then. Anyone can reach here by traveling 75 kilometers from Colombo towards Kegalle district in Sabaragamuwa province.
3. Ragedara Graphite Mine
People call the Ragedara mine, with the name Sakura mine as well. However, this too happens to be one of the most ancient graphite mines in Sri Lanka. As per history, it has been the leader in the graphite producing industry until the second world war. Besides, there is a belief that this mine produced the purest vein graphite in the world by then. Nevertheless, even in the present, it has the capacity of producing 18,000 tons of high-quality graphite annually. This mine is accessible following a ride of around three hours from Colombo.
Sri Lanka Graphite Exports
As the only country in the entire world that produces 98% pure carbon vein graphite in commercial quantities, Sri Lanka is a leader in graphite exports. In fact, Sri Lanka produces approximately 300 tons of vein graphite per month mainly from the three mines discussed above. Accordingly, around 2.7% of Sri Lanka’s GDP in the year 2017 happened to be made up of mining and quarrying activities. In addition, 90% of the graphite in Sri Lanka is exported without value addition.
With the introduction of Sri Lankan graphene to the world market, the Sri Lankan government expects to double the current export revenue. At present, Sri Lanka exports graphene to the United States of America, Japan, and India. Accordingly, experts use graphene to manufacture car batteries, computer chips, and solar power products for exportation. This can be considered as an intensification of export products.
Demand for Graphite in Sri Lanka
The demand for Sri Lankan graphite has increased with the establishment of a graphene production plant in Sri Lanka (Graphene is considered as value-added graphite). Even though 14 other companies which produce graphene have been listed, only one company in the Asian region belongs to Sri Lanka. Even the neighboring country India does not own a graphene production plant. However, the amazing thing is that the leading personalities in the industry sector use Sri Lankan graphene for their products.
50% of the graphene needs of local battery companies in Sri Lanka have the opportunity to fulfill the local graphene produced in Sri Lanka itself. In addition to the battery manufacturing industries, the following set of industries enhance the demand for graphene.
- Paint industry
- Coating industry
- Plastic manufacturing industry
- Water purification industry
- Solar power plant industry
Accordingly, this saves a lot of money for the country since this reduces the cost of importing graphene from other countries.
In 2015 the demand for graphite was 85,000 tons and it was increased to 160,000 tons in 2018. The analysts predicted that the demand will rise by 7 folds by 2028. However, the reason for the higher demand for graphite is due to the electric vehicle market. Besides, the demand from the lubricant, energy storage, and electronics devices play a major role with regard as well.
Demand for Vein Graphite
Vein graphite has qualities such as high cohesive integrity, higher thermal, and electric conductivity, and an environmentally friendly nature. In addition, the ability to mold them easily and to form into solid shapes like rosettes, tabular, or irregular shapes without using the binder is another reason for their high popularity. Accordingly, the demand for vein graphite keeps increasing according to the statistics.
Is Graphite from Sri Lanka Expensive?
Graphite mining from Sri Lanka has a lower price in comparison to the rest of the world. Yet, it has supreme quality. The reason for this price difference happens as a result of low production costs. However, one kilogram of graphene costs about 27 lakhs (LKR 2,700,000) in Sri Lankan Rupees. Accordingly, production cost becomes low because the graphite from Sri Lanka has a higher carbon purity level and the cost of refining and milling goes low.
Challenges the Graphite Industry Faces in Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan graphite industry faces several challenges at the moment. Lack of use of technology in the discovery, mining, and preparation stages of the production process has become a key challenge. This is because the technology can make a remarkable improvement mainly by increasing efficiency.
Since the beginning of graphite mining which happened to initiate 200 years ago, the methods and equipment utilized in the mining process have been subjected to a slower evolving process. This very reason has caused them to take a step backward as an industry.
This industry in Sri Lanka also struggles when catering to the global demand for vein graphite. This is because it has become a bit difficult due to the lack of manpower in the production process. The wages of the mineworkers happen to be in a poor state as they have little exposure to the regulations. This hugely discourages the mineworkers on the other hand.
Similarly, the other burning challenge also happens related to the mineworkers. Their safety during the working process has been taken lightly and the insurance policies and other offers for them seem to be in a poor condition as well. The precautions and safety measures are in need of improvement in order to maintain an employee-friendly working environment.
Furthermore, the sudden changes in the weather such as heavy rain and landslides also affect the industry. They interrupt the flow of working as well as increase the additional expenses in the effort of handling those consequences.
Future of the Industry
Graphene is considered the trending form of graphite at present, and Sri Lanka has already started producing them. They happen to have a higher strength than the diamond and are approximately 100 times stronger than the finest steel. This has built a reputation as the world’s thinnest material and as a material with fascinating qualities. Moreover, by considering the ability to conduct electricity in a very small space this material has become very popular among the industries such as computer manufactures and miniature electronic manufacturers. Therefore, recently the government of Sri Lanka has shown a keen interest in graphene production and exporting them with the world’s super quality vein graphite we already have. This can be perceived as a bright light for the industry in the future.
Furthermore, due to graphene’s amazing qualities, they have a stable global market with a highly beneficial financial price. Besides, statistics show that Sri Lanka has deposits that can provide quality vein graphite for about another 100 years. Accordingly, by introducing new technology along with the machinery, the standards of these products can be improved.
The Bottom Line
Maybe you were not aware of the significance of graphite in Sri Lanka earlier, but we hope that this read provided you a good overview. So, all these facts, prove to you again and again that it is not only the golden shorelines, amazing cascades, wonderful wildlife, and the rich culture that make this island unique, but also the graphite in Sri Lanka. Of course, this industry is still evolving, embracing the latest technologies. Thus, the graphite industry in Sri Lanka has a long way ahead to traverse, and we are sure that it would serve the world on a large scale in the years to come. So, let us wish that Sri Lanka gets the opportunity to make the best of it!