Value addition would double Graphite export revenue - Wickramaratne | Daily News

Value addition would double Graphite export revenue - Wickramaratne

Sakura Graphite to manufacture Solar batteries
Sakura Graphite Chairman, Keerthi Wickramaratne
Sakura Graphite Chairman, Keerthi Wickramaratne

Sri Lanka could easily double its foreign exchange earnings from mineral exports if they conduct local value addition prior exporting, said Chairman, Sakura Graphite Pvt. Ltd., Engineering Process Engineer, Sakura Graphite Chairman, Keerthi Wickramaratne.

Wickramaratne who is also Managing Director Blue Bay Mineral International Private Limited, said that Sri Lanka earns around US$100 million annually from the export of graphite which could be doubled within four years with value addition.

The graphite industry was initiated by the British in the 18th century and by 1948, there were over 300 Graphite mines. Until the end of the Second World War, Sri Lanka was the World’s number One graphite producer and exporter. However, only three graphite mines are functioning to date, while Sakura Graphite was the only Mine to be re-opened after post-independence.

“I witnessed the potential of graphite and how Sri Lanka’s export sector could get a major boost from it and restarted the Ragedara Mine in Malsiripura, which had been shut down with a German partner. We were granted an environmental mining certificate by the Provincial Environmental Authority, North Western Province In April, 2012.”

Ragedara Graphite Mine was the major mine to produce graphite until the end of the Second World War, which had produced the bulk of the country’s production. (Ragedara Mine stands at No.1 position in the British Mine Registry of Sri Lanka due to its production capacity during that era). The Graphite from Ragedara was tested as the purest vein graphite in the world. (Analytical Reports of Superior Graphite and SGS). The Ragedara Mine had the most concentrated number of veins, while it contained more than 30 graphite out crops in its own land, whereas other major mines contained only a couple of vein out crops.

Sakura Graphite then initiated graphite exports to Germany and due to its high quality, they expanded to Japan, the UK and the USA as well.

Vein graphite, also known as crystalline vein graphite, Sri Lankan Graphite, or Ceylon Graphite, is a naturally occurring form of pyrolitic carbon (solid carbon deposited from a fluid phase).

Vein graphite contains the highest “degree of crystalline” perfection of all conventional graphite material. “These deposits would remain and could be extracted for over 200 years.”

“After mastering the industry, Sakura Graphite introduced value addition and started ‘micronized chip’ exports of graphite rather than exporting them in primate form.”

I also observed that the Sri Lankan graphite industry was deteriorating and launched a major education and promoting program throughout the world at my own expense to promote the local mining industry, specially through World graphite exhibitions. “Today, I am happy to note that over 20 companies are seeking to restart mines. They have come to understand that Sri Lanka’s vein graphite doesn’t need very costly chemical processes to upgrade it to high-tech industries.”

He said that Graphite is used to manufacture computer chips, material for health and mobile industry, defence, Aerospace Industry, for lubricants, solar batteries and many more products.

Sakura Graphite has now decided to invest a further US$ 5 to 6 million during the next four years to manufacture Solar storing batteries in Sri Lanka.

Wickramaratne who was the former Chairman, Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority for three years until 2018 end, said that out of Sri Lanka’s total import bill, over 40% is spent for energy imports to generate thermal power during the drought season.

I then promoted the concept of installing ‘Solar in roof tops’ and today the 30 KW generation three years ago was increased to around 300 KW. “As a support to continue this program we wish to manufacture batteries to store Solar and I will start this project next year and I looking for a local or foreign JV partner.” In addition, during the end of this year, I will look at the manufacture of lubricants of the local industry.

Today, more and more graphite by products are used for high tech industries, while there is an increase in global graphite prices. He said that ITI and SLINTEC, institute on Nano Technology, along with local Universities, are launching several initiatives to introduce more value addition for graphite exports.

These efforts would certainly help the graphite industry to witness value addition and bringing in more foreign exchange, secondly the introduction of several products such as solar batteries, lubricants, paints, grease, pastels to local market, attract foreign mining companies, job creations and finally make value added Graphite the top export earner from Sri Lanka. 

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