Here’s a fun fact you may not know: The “lead” in the ubiquitous No. 2 lead pencil is not lead at all, but graphite, with a little clay mixed in—probably a lucky thing for generations of pencil-chomping grade-schoolers. But the low-end use of pencil is only one small segment of a large and growing list of industrial and manufacturing uses for graphite. And with the advent of new high-tech and “green” energy technologies, graphite may be the new essential mineral in the not-too-distant future.
Graphite is one form of, or allotrope of, carbon; diamond is another. In nature, graphite takes three forms: crystalline, or flake graphite; amorphous or fine particle graphite; and lump or vein graphite, which is most rare and closest in hardness to diamonds.
Graphite has been used by humans in one way or another since the stone age. It conducts electricity, is a natural lubricant, and is resistant to very high temperatures. Natural graphite has long been used in refractories—heat-resistant liners for industrial equipment such as blast furnaces, batteries, steelmaking, brake linings, foundry facings, lubricants—and pencils.
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