Graphite is much more than the substance found in a lead pencil. It is a mineral that is an electrical conductor and has a wide variety of uses, ranging from being a lubricant to becoming part of a brake lining to being an integral part of the steelmaking process.
Back in the 1500s, there was a large deposit of graphite found near Cumbria, England. The villagers used this graphite to make markings on their sheep, and this was the only graphite deposit found in its solid form. At the time, chemistry was still a fledgling science, and the people who came in contact with the graphite thought that it was a form of lead--which is why the centre of a pencil is called "lead."
Graphite is one of the most unique substances in that it is an excellent conductor of both heat and electricity, and yet it is not a metal. One of the most common uses of graphite is in dry batteries, where it is used in making carbon rods.
Known as a solid lubricant, graphite needs the water vapour in the air to become slippery. However, it is corrosive when it comes into contact with aluminium.
While some of the markets for graphite have trailed off in the United States, graphite usage in China has exploded. It is used in the manufacture of brake linings, and since China's automotive industry remains in high demand, so is their need for graphite.
The Future of Graphite
Because of its unique properties, graphite shows a bright future where it will be used in such things as the manufacturing of moulds as well as being an integral component of parts for machinery. When used within pipes, it helps to slow down or eliminate chemical erosion.