As the essential component in electric vehicle (EV) batteries and other important technologies, the United States government recently labeled graphite a “critical need” material for national defense. Unfortunately, roughly 80% of supply is currently produced overseas.
Now a major effort is underway to establish a new graphite industry that’s “made in America.” As part of that effort, Ramaco Carbon, a leading carbon technology company, is partnering with one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s largest science and energy laboratories — Oak Ridge National Laboratory — to develop new, large-scale processes for making graphite from coal.
The efforts on graphite are part of a larger research partnership between Ramaco and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory over the past three years, exploring a wide range of alternative uses of coal to make higher-value carbon products and materials.
The new two-year project is funded jointly by Ramaco Carbon and ORNL via a DOE Fossil Energy & Carbon Management Program Field Work Proposal, and it will focus on scaling up to commercial level a process that has already shown success at the bench scale at ORNL. Activities to be led by Ramaco include the use of specialized equipment at its iCAM research facility in Wyoming to prepare feedstocks for the process using coal from the mines of its parent company, the publicly traded metallurgical coal producer Ramaco Resources, Inc. (NASDAQ: METC).
“Ramaco has worked with ORNL on other projects that have ties to the EV industry, such as the light-weighting of vehicles using coal-derived carbon fiber,” said James Dietz, one of Ramaco’s primary researchers on the project. “If successful, this project has the potential to be extremely impactful, and turbocharge the United States EV industry.”
At its core, the research is focused on harnessing carbon, the key building block for synthetic graphite and many other products. Today, this carbon is typically derived from more expensive petroleum and related petrochemical feedstocks. The goal of this joint research project is to build upon previous research by both organizations and develop a novel process that uses the carbon in coal as a feedstock instead.
A technoeconomic analysis being prepared by researchers at ORNL suggests that the novel process will be less expensive compared to the petroleum-based alternative.
“Since its founding, ORNL has excelled in delivering translational science. This collaboration between the laboratory and Ramaco is a great example of how basic and applied research work together to accelerate science-driven technology developments,” said Associate Laboratory Director for Energy Science and Technology Dr. Xin Sun.
In this project, the team is focused on scaling up and commercializing a technology that was originally developed under the sponsorship of DOE’s Basic Energy Sciences program, which supports fundamental research to provide the foundations for new energy technologies.
“We try not to oversell research in early stages, but if it is successful, then the ability to use lower cost coal as the feedstock to make synthetic graphite could be transformational,” said Randall Atkins, Chairman and CEO of Ramaco. “The multi-year ongoing public-private partnership with ORNL has allowed us to make some unique and substantial technology advances in that direction. Our long-term goal has been to reinvent the use of America’s most abundant natural resource to make it a solution to some of our most pressing needs for the global energy transition. This will help reshape both the energy markets and the environment for the better.”
Ramaco Carbon is a carbon technology company, based in Sheridan, Wyoming, with operations in both Wyoming and West Virginia. It has focused on the use of coal to create advanced carbon products and materials, such as carbon fibers, building products, rare earth minerals, graphene-based life science products. The company is building the nation’s first vertically integrated carbon tech platform, which includes the Brook Mine, the iCAM research park campuses in Wyoming and West Virginia, and the future iPark mine-mouth manufacturing facilities. Visit www.ramacocarbon.com for more information.
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