From Pencils To Solar Panels: All The Unique Ways In Which Graphite Creates Usable, Desirable Products
From the time you were a little kid in elementary school, you knew that the soft gray lead in pencils was not lead. Somewhere along the way, an adult told you that lead was toxic, so you know that instead of lead, pencil manufacturers used graphite. Graphite was a carbon material that could easily bind to a bonding agent, making it malleable and able to roll into very small cylinders that could then be inserted into shaped wood to make pencils. More or less binder made the graphite harder or softer, respectively, lending itself to create drawing pencils of varying hardness.
Pencils are not the only product of which graphite is a part. In fact, it may surprise you to learn that graphite has many forms and is in many of the usable, useful, and desirable products you see everyday. Just take a look at some of the other unique ways in which graphite is used to manufacture such products:
Who would have thought that this gray substance found as-is in nature could turn into something that would harness the energy of the sun and produce electricity? Yet, here it is. Graphite is used to make the energy-sensitive solar panels that convert solar light waves to electricity. It has to be converted into its crystalline form and then made into cells. Graphite has a high conductivity rating, which is what makes it ideal for the production of solar panels.
When liquefied, the graphite makes a very nice lubricant for many machines in a manufacturing plant. In some cases it is used as an alternative to oil as a lubricant, producing slightly less waste oil and subsequently less toxic waste product. In this capacity, graphite absorbs heat and slows friction, both of which are essential to stopping the overheating and wearing down of machine parts.
In milling and grinding processes, graphite is used to create the ball bearings that will pulverize other materials into a nice dust. They are a safer, less toxic alternative to lead ball bearings, and they will hold up against the grinding process equally as well. To make the ball bearings, the manufacturer first combines the graphite material with binders that make the graphite extremely hard and very dense. The material is tested for hardness and durability before being compressed and "cooked" in a kiln into the ball bearings that are then sold to other factories for grinding and milling.