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Natural graphite is a crystalline mineral of pure carbon which normally occurs in the form of platelet-shaped crystals. It has important properties, such as chemical inertness, low thermal expansion, and lubricity, that make it almost irreplaceable for certain uses such as refractories and steelmaking. Graphite ore types are crystalline (flake and lump} or 'amorphous' (cryptocrystalline}. Refractory applications use the largest total amount of natural graphite, while the most important use of crystalline graphite is in crucibles for handling molten metals. All graphite deposits being mined today are found in the following metamorphic environments: (1) contact metamorphosed coal generally is a source of amorphous graphite; (2)disseminated crystalline flake graphite comes from syngenetic metasediments; and (3) crystalline lump graphite is found in epigenetic veins in high-grade metamorphic regions. Graphite may also occur as a trace mineral in ultrabasic rocks and pegmatites, but these are economically insignificant. The world's identified economically exploitable resources of crystalline graphite in major deposits are estimated to be about 9.7 million metric tons of concentrate. In-place resources of amorphous graphite are about 11.5 million metric tons. Of these, less than 2 percent of the crystalline ore and less than 1 percent of the amorphous ore are in western industrial countries. World mining production of natural graphite rose from 347,000 metric tons in 1973 to 659,000 metric tons in 1986, while the proportion produced by central economy countries increased from about 50 percent for the period from 1973 to 1978 to more than 64 percent in 1979 to 1986. It is estimated that crystalline flake graphite accounts for at least 180,000 metric tons of total annual world mining production of natural graphite, and amorphous graphite makes up the rest.
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
International strategic minerals inventory summary report; natural graphite