The biggest general story in the graphite sector since the start of the year has arguably been the European Union’s billion Euros grant to various companies and research institutes to advance the study of graphene. The second biggest story, no doubt, is the fact that a company has found a way to refine natural graphite to the unprecedented level of 99.96% carbon content.
That company is Zenyatta Ventures (TSXV: ZEN). Indeed, in the first week of February, Zenyatta published the results of beneficiation tests from samples taken at the Albany graphite deposit, which proved its purity and value. The purity levels achieved are higher than the highest carbon levels normally noted in natural graphite (70-99%). For investors, this degree of purity means that Zenyatta can command very high prices and the market has continued to respond as Zenyatta’s share price rose a further 39% for the week ending on February 15. Zenyatta has taken a giant leap since the end of January when it was trading at around the CAD$ 0.95 mark, more than doubling to hit above CAD$ 2.00, closing for the week at CAD $1.95. If the investors have proven their ebullience over the results; the scientists and engineers cannot be far behind.
The kind of purity shown by Zenyatta’s graphite is comparable to the finest of synthetic graphite, which is far more costly in both financial and environmental terms. Indeed, Zenyatta’s graphite is unique, or almost unique. Zenyatta has identified it as being of the ‘Sri-Lankan’ or vein variety, which is very rare and named because it was first identified in Sri Lanka at the Bogala mine. Outside of Sri Lanka, Zenyatta is but one of the very few properties of a comparable mineral. Sri Lankan graphite is reputed to show the best crystalline properties of all graphite varieties and it is can be adapted to various applications from electric motor brushes to automotive brake pads and clutches in purities reaching 99%.
Geologists explain that such purity levels are possible because the carbon deposits, in vein graphite, result from the precipitation of solid carbon from a geologic liquid as it goes travels through emplaced rock such that the graphite itself never touches the country rock as in the more conventional types of graphite deposits. While much has been made about the high value of jumbo-flake graphite, promoted as the ideal graphite for higher end applications and for the production of graphene, Zenyatta suggests that the driving value of graphite is purity and over 95% purity commands the highest prices.
High purity is also a key factor in the production of graphene and the timing of the beneficiation results could not have been more propitious as the European Commission noted two key factors that should lead to a boost in demand for this mineral: two (not one) “flagship” projects – and all in 2013 – involving 126 academic and industrial research groups working in 17 European countries all aiming to achieve a commercially viable use of graphene and related two-dimensional materials in the information & telecommunications technology, materials science, energy research and the life sciences.
The EU has also identified graphite as one of the strategic minerals for the development of future technology and for which secure sources must be established. As for graphene’s applications, last week’s update hinted at the possibility of using graphene in medical applications and that graphene could be the new ‘silicon’. This is closer to reality than imagined. As silicon substrates have proven too rigid or sharp to be used in electrodes used by bio-medical science to help patients overcome degenerative illnesses or sensory deficiencies, even broken spines.
A German University, Technische Universität München, has now started to experiment with graphene based prostheses and devices, owing to their far greater flexibility, and superior bio-compatibility, when compared to silicon. The overall weekly share index for ProEdgeWire’s graphite sector sponsors fell by 3.30%; while there were no significant losses and almost all the companies saw their value drop. The one exception was Zenyatta thanks to its remarkable announcement. Also we welcome the addition Of Berkwood Resources (TSXV: BKR), which operates the Lac Guéret East Graphite Property in Quebec, Canada.