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Contact person: Fujun Pei
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Uses Of Synthetic Graphite

Uses of synthetic graphite       


Invention of a process to produce synthetic graphite


A process to make synthetic graphite was invented accidentally by Edward Goodrich Acheson (1856–1931). In the mid-1890s, Acheson discovered that overheating carborundum, which he is also credited with discovering, produced almost pure graphite. While studying the effects of high temperature on carborundum, he had found that silicon vaporizes at about 4,150 °C (7,500 °F), leaving the carbon behind in graphitic carbon. This graphite was another major discovery for him, and it became extremely valuable and helpful as a lubricant.

In 1896 Acheson received a patent for his method of synthesizing graphite, and in 1897 started commercial production. The Acheson Graphite Co. was formed in 1899. In 1928 this company was merged with National Carbon Company (now GrafTech International). Acheson also developed a variety of colloidal graphite products including Oildag and Aquadag. These were later manufactured by the Acheson Colloids Co. (now Acheson Industries, a unit of Henkel AG).


Scientific research


Highly oriented pyrolytic graphite (HOPG) is the highest-quality synthetic form of graphite. It is used in scientific research, in particular, as a length standard for scanner calibration of scanning probe microscope.


Electrodes


Graphite electrodes carry the electricity that melts scrap iron and steel (and sometimes direct-reduced iron: DRI) in electric arc furnaces, which are the vast majority of steel furnaces. They are made from petroleum coke after it is mixed with coal tar pitch. They are then extruded and shaped, baked to carbonize the binder (pitch), and finally graphitized by heating it to temperatures approaching 3000 °C, at which the carbon atoms arrange into graphite. They can vary in size up to 11 ft. long and 30 in. in diameter. An increasing proportion of global steel is made using electric arc furnaces, and the electric arc furnace itself is getting more efficient, making more steel per tonne of electrode. An estimate based on USGS data indicates that graphite electrode consumption was 197,000 tonnes in 2005.

On a much smaller scale, graphite is also used for making electrodes for electrical discharge machining (EDM), commonly used to make plastic injection molds. Graphite is also used as an electrode in electrolytically processing of Aluminium.


Powder and scrap


The powder is made by heating powdered petroleum coke above the temperature of graphitization, sometimes with minor modifications. The graphite scrap comes from pieces of unusable electrode material (in the manufacturing stage or after use) and lathe turnings, usually after crushing and sizing. Most synthetic graphite powder goes to carbon raising in steel (competing with natural graphite), with some used in batteries and brake linings. According to the USGS, US synthetic graphite powder and scrap production was 95,000 tonnes in 2001 (latest data).


Neutron moderator

Main article: Nuclear graphite

Special grades of synthetic graphite also find use as a matrix and neutron moderator within nuclear reactors. Its low neutron cross-section also recommends it for use in proposed fusion reactors. Care must be taken that reactor-grade graphite is free of neutron absorbing materials such as boron, widely used as the seed electrode in commercial graphite deposition systems—this caused the failure of the Germans‘ World War II graphite-based nuclear reactors. Since they could not isolate the difficulty they were forced to use far more expensive heavy water moderators. Graphite used for nuclear reactors is often referred to as nuclear graphite.


Other uses


Graphite (carbon) fiber and carbon nanotubes are also used in carbon fiber reinforced plastics, and in heat-resistant composites such as reinforced carbon-carbon (RCC). Commercial structures made from carbon fiber graphite composites include fishing rods, golf club shafts, bicycle frames, sports car body panels, the fuselage of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and pool cue sticks and have been successfully employed in reinforced concrete, The mechanical properties of carbon fiber graphite-reinforced plastic composites and grey cast iron are strongly influenced by the role of graphite in these materials. In this context, the term "(100%) graphite" is often loosely used to refer to a pure mixture of carbon reinforcement and resin, while the term "composite" is used for composite materials with additional ingredients.

Modern smokeless powder is coated in graphite to prevent the buildup of static charge.

Graphite has been used in at least three radar absorbent materials. It was mixed with rubber in Sumpf and Schornsteinfeger, which were used on U-boat snorkels to reduce their radar cross section. It was also used in tiles on early F-117 Nighthawk (1983)s.                   
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