Chinese and Indian demand for Madagascan flake graphite is soaring, new data shows.

Madagascan exports of flake graphite to China increased by more than 12 per cent per month between January 2017 and June 2019; and they are still rising.

India is also a growing consumer. Exports have rocketed from 90 tonnes per month in 2017 up to 520 tonnes per month though the first half of 2019.

That’s a ~480 per cent increase in just over two years.

READ: China’s graphite imports are now up 2000% over the last ~18 months

Although lithium-ion batteries typically require small/medium size flakes, expandable graphite needs so-called jumbo and super-jumbo flake — which is what Madagascar is known for.

This ‘expandable graphite’ can be pressed into sheets and used for heat and fire protection, in applications ranging from building materials to consumer electronics and fuel cells.

It also receives a premium price.

There are several companies looking to ramp up production of flake graphite in the African country, including Bass Metals (ASX:BSM) and BlackEarth Minerals (ASX:BEM).

This is what the jumbo flake from BlackEarth’s advanced Maniry project in southern Madagascar looks like:

When treated with acid and heat, these flakes split apart and increase in volume by up to 300 times.

Here’s a vid showing how that works, courtesy of Triton Minerals (ASX:TON). Skip to ~45secs for the action:

Although expandable applications only account for 50 to 60 million tonnes of overall demand in 2019 – or 7 per cent of the natural flake graphite market and 2 per cent of the total natural and synthetic graphite market – Roskill says the sector is growing strongly.

“Chinese resources of larger size flake graphite are known to be limited and interest in Madagascar is increasing as this market develops,” Roskill analyst Suzanna Shaw says.

“A number of Indian companies are [also] thought to be keen to invest in the emerging expandable/expanded industry, producing products both for an increasing domestic market and for export.”