Syrah Resources : Granting Global Access to Graphite

Joshua MannLily Sawyer
Joshua Mann - Regional Director Lily Sawyer - Senior Editor
MAINBalama Plant night view

We revisit Syrah Resources with Agnaldo Laice, General Manager of Institutional Relations and Corporate Services, who recaps the company’s impressive status as one of the world’s largest natural graphite producers outside of China and outlines its ongoing aspirations amidst a challenging industry landscape.

GRANTING GLOBAL ACCESS TO GRAPHITE

Graphite is considered a critical mineral by authorities such as the US government and the EU, and the anode materials it produces continue to provide vital fuel for the ever-growing global electric vehicle (EV) market.  

As such, many countries have developed various strategies to secure the supply of these sought-after materials.  

Capitalising on the exponential growth of the EV market of late, the strategy of Syrah Resources (Syrah) has historically been rooted in the vertical integration of its graphite mining operations in Mozambique, alongside its battery anode manufacturing operations in the US.  

Today, Syrah is proud to be the first vertically integrated natural graphite and active anode material company in the world outside of China. Its high-quality natural graphite is mined and processed out of its Balama graphite plant in Mozambique before being further processed and purified at its brand-new Vidalia plant in Louisiana, US and shipped to battery manufacturers and automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) all over the world.  

Since last speaking to Syrah in July 2022, the company has progressed even further in evolving its facilities and product offerings whilst sustaining its production amidst market challenges and developing its deep-rooted dedication to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) activities and local community engagement. 

“As a business, we have a unique value proposition based on the fact that we are a major supplier of natural graphite and active anode material (AAM), with upstream and downstream expansion potential underpinned by our world-class Balama asset,” introduces Agnaldo Laice, General Manager of Institutional Relations and Corporate Services at Syrah’s operating subsidiary in Mozambique.  

“We’ve evidently become one of the largest natural graphite producers in the world, whilst our vertical integration with the AAM operation in the US is the first of its kind outside of China,” he confirms. 

The company’s client base includes a broad range of customers in the steel, battery manufacturing, and automotive sectors across China, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, India, Europe, and the US, whilst a significant amount of product continues to be supplied to the former, which remains dominant from both a natural graphite demand and AAM production perspective.  

With aspirations to further expand its downstream operations at Vidalia in the coming years, the company is focused on continuing to deliver shareholder value while participating in the key decarbonisation trend of electrifying the global transportation fleet.  

RAMPING UP

The ongoing development at Syrah’s Vidalia plant in Louisiana has been focused on establishing an AAM production facility that can compete and is a viable option for critical mineral supply to Asia, primarily China.  

After initiating the development of downstream technology in 2016, followed by the feasibility, engineering, and construction of the processing facility, the company successfully completed commissioning of the plant in late 2023 and further commenced AAM production in February 2024. Syrah is now fully engaged in the downstream integration, progressively increasing production throughput and product quality from the Vidalia facility.  

“We are currently committed to completing the qualification process, whilst ramping up AAM production volumes to supply our existing and new customers,” Laice affirms.  

However, recent volatile market conditions and weaker pricing have led to a significant reduction of natural graphite production at Balama, which presents a near-term challenge for the company in contrast to the strong medium and long-term outlook for AAM demand outside China.  

Late last year, the Chinese government announced the introduction of export licensing controls for graphite products. These have increased uncertainty, administrative barriers, and delays in export supply of graphite materials from China, which in turn has impacted demand for Syrah’s natural graphite from Balama.  

“Therefore, driven by short-term lower market demand, production at Balama has been moderated through the adoption of a campaign production mode, in which we are focused on maintaining operating capacity and market presence, whilst also reducing costs, managing finances, and ensuring readiness for improved market conditions,” he reveals.  

Syrah’s approach specifically aims to reduce single-country dependency and has resulted in several positive developments, including a recently announced offtake agreement with Posco Future M (Posco), a major South Korean battery materials producer and one of the largest AAM producers globally. The company is also currently in commercial discussions with several other customers outside China, as well as various automotive OEMs and battery manufacturers.  

“In 2025, we’re going to begin supplying Posco with natural graphite from Balama whilst continuing to engage with other customers who are inevitably seeking to diversify natural graphite supply away from China,” Laice details.  

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SUPPLY CHAIN DEVELOPMENTS

Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the shipping industry, which previously caused problematic backlogs and even stranded product shipments, Syrah introduced breakbulk shipments from Pemba in 2022. This approach has allowed for greater vessel charter options to better cater to customers’ requirements.  

“By working together with our logistics provider, Grindrod, and Pemba port operator, CFM, we were able to ensure that we not only procured and mobilised adequate capacity breakbulk vessels but improved landside logistics, highlighting opportunities for future efficiencies,” Laice prides.  

This included the establishment of a new warehouse in the Pemba facility, where Syrah’s product is temporarily stored, enabling product to be transferred to vessels more efficiently.  

Fast-forward to today, and the company utilises two export channels – its traditional container port in Nacala, including exclusive access to a state-of-the-art Cross Dock Facility and the breakbulk shipments port in Pemba. 

Thus, despite the export limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Syrah has successfully leveraged this challenge to its advantage. As a result, the company now utilises more than one major port to service its customers and global markets, emerging stronger from the experience.    

AN ACTIVE COMMUNITY PLAYER

As part of its sustainability strategy, Syrah is committed to operating safely, ethically, and efficiently to create value for its people and stakeholders. Hence, to continue solidifying its ESG credentials, Syrah has embarked in a process of undertaking an independent assessment of Balama’s social and environmental performance against the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining, which is one of the most comprehensive and rigorous mining standards in the world.  

“Although we’re still to receive the final report of the independent audit, I believe that we’re well positioned to ensure we substantially meet most if not all of the +400 different requirements,” Laice declares.  

Due to its achievements at Balama in partnership with key stakeholders and continued maintenance of world-class responsible mining operations, the company believes it has built a strong foundation to achieve IRMA certification, a first of its kind across the global graphite industry.  

In addition, as Laice informed us in 2022, he is personally committed to upholding strong sustainability practices and continued community engagement, especially in his role as Chairperson of the Local Development Committee. 

“The Local Development Committee continues to hold regular meetings with representatives of the host communities and the local district government. These meetings provide a structured framework to discuss, select, and prioritise the implementation of sustainable development initiatives and projects aligned with the needs of communities.  

The company’s Sustainable Income Generation Activities (SIGA) programme continues to offer opportunities for local producers and farmers to learn new farming techniques, scale up production, and access markets.  

There are several initiatives in place under the SIGA programme yielding encouraging results including, amongst others, improved vegetable production, poultry farming, cashew production, and beekeeping. Syrah continues to work with local implementing partners to ensure that communities ultimately benefit from the programme. 

“As part of our sustainability strategy, we’ll certainly continue this work for years to come, driven by the commitment we’ve made to communities and, of course, to the Government of Mozambique,” he acknowledges.  

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS

Since speaking to us in 2022 about its offtake agreement with Tesla, Syrah has, in the meantime, completed the product qualification process and commenced commercial scale operations at Vidalia.  

This marks progression towards becoming a vertically integrated natural graphite AAM supply alternative for US and European battery supply chain participants and OEM customers.  

 The company is currently working to ramp up production at the 11,250 tonnes per annum (tpa) AAM Vidalia facility to fulfil the offtake agreement with Tesla, subject to confirmation of consistent production of quality AAM aligned with contractual and technical requirements. 

Syrah is also progressing commercial and technical engagements with additional customers and supply chain participants. This includes non-binding MoUs with Ford Motor Company, LG Energy Solution, and Samsung SDI to evaluate AAM supply from Vidalia. The company expects to announce further progress of Vidalia AAM offtake agreements in the near future. 

“We’re talking about a product that goes into EVs driven by people. These vehicles need to perform, and, of course, Tesla seeks to ensure that the batteries are performing at the level customers expect,” Laice explains.  

“We’re also progressing with engineering and procurement activities for the expansion of Vidalia’s production to 45,000 tpa, which will be subject to a Final Investment Decision (FID) by the Syrah board,” he adds. 

In addition, its position as one of the world’s largest vertically integrated producers of natural graphite and AAM outside of China continues to bolster the company’s status and strategic importance in critical minerals supply chains.  

“Our strong value proposition with upstream and downstream expansion potential, underpinned by the world-class Balama asset positions us as a viable alternative to China, particularly for the US, Europe, and other major players in the global EV markets,” Laice outlines. 

A major contributor to the company’s value proposition is its leading ESG credentials, which represent a significant competitive advantage, enabling automakers and battery manufacturers to audit their supply chains all the way to the source due to Syrah’s fully integrated single chain.   

“More and more, customers today seek sustainable products with low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and carbon footprint. Our strong ESG credentials can be verified at any time to reassure customers of the sustainability of our products,” he concludes.  

Furthermore, with a potential natural graphite production capacity of 350,000 tpa at its Balama mine, which has a lifespan of 50+ years – the largest integrated natural graphite operation globally – Syrah has the capacity to fulfil a higher output year-on-year.  

With projections in the EV space indicating a significant increase in demand for natural graphite and AAM outside of China in the next few years, combined with the company’s efforts to differentiate its products and further strengthen its ESG credentials, a bright future and opportunities are expected for Syrah.

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By Lily Sawyer Senior Editor
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Lily Sawyer is an in-house writer for Africa Outlook Magazine, where she is responsible for interviewing corporate executives and crafting original features for the magazine, corporate brochures, and the digital platform.