The upheaval in graphite electrodes demand in the past two years and a steady surge in the requirements for graphite anodes for lithium-ion batteries in China has boosted the needle-coke demand in the country.
In 2018, the overall performance of China’s needle coke market was relatively stable with prices showing an uptrend and reaching its high in the month of November. However, towards the end of 2018, the plunge in steel demand from downstream sector in China adversely impacted the country’s graphite electrode requirement and so does the needle coke demand and prices.
With the start of 2019, China’s domestic needle coke prices have been falling and have registered a plunge of 35% in the time span of six months. However, the price of high-quality needle coke required for UHP grade GE (usually imported) has been rising continuously recording a surge of 22% during Jan-Jun’19. The domestic needle coke prices in China are currently trending in the range of RMB 19,000-20,000 (USD 2,750 – 2,900/MT) whereas imported needle coke prices are at 4,200 – 4,600/MT.
According to customs data, in the first four months of 2019, China's petroleum-based needle coke import volume was 46,413 tonnes, 70% of which came from the United Kingdom, 15.3% from the United States, and 9.5% from Japan whereas country’s coal-based needle-coke imports were 27,819 tonnes of which 62% came from South Korea and 38% from Japan.
Although the domestic needle coke produced in China still has some time to match the global standards, with the help of some research and development, the quality of the same has improved to some extent and few products have been able to mark their entry in the international market also.
At present, the production capacity of domestic needle coke in China is in the period of rapid expansion and in 2019 some new projects will be officially put into operations.