Experts say the promise of expanded uses for "pencil lead" in electronic car, cell phone and tablet computer batteries has helped touch off the largest wave of graphite mining projects in decades.
From technological to industrial, graphite products comprise a $13 billion global industry.
To supply that industry, minerals expert Don Hains says more than 200 companies are searching for graphite deposits around the world.
Several companies are exploring in Canada, and at least four companies are exploring prospects in the U.S. at sites in Alabama, Nevada and Montana.
But one especially promising graphite deposit—the second largest known in the world and the largest deposit in North America—sits buried in western Alaska.
Vancouver, B.C.-based Graphite One completed initial drill results at its graphite deposit on the Seward Peninsula, about 40 miles from Nome, in 2012. In January the company announced that the amount of graphite they expected to find in the area has jumped by more than 60 percent.
The high-grade flake graphite is in a ten-mile long corridor that’s “significantly larger” than other known deposits, geologist and Graphite One Vice President of Exploration Dean Besserer said.
In all, Besserer said the company is exploring two resources in the area with an estimated 284.7 million tons of graphite-bearing rock. The deposit is “about 4.5 percent high-grade graphite,” Besserer said, with a large portion of the rock upwards of ten percent graphite.
“It’s not highest grade in the world, but certainly one of the highest,” Besserer said.
The Graphite One resource would require open-pit mining, but Besserer said graphite extraction is a mostly mechanical separation of ore from rock that usually doesn’t require dangerous chemicals used in other mining.
The graphite deposit in Nome has been known since the Gold Rush of the late 1800s and was last surveyed in the mid-1990s.