Monday, August 07, 2006

What is Needle Coke?

Hey, three of you asked!

Well, you don’t drink it, snort it, or shoot it up. Does that narrow the range of possibilities?

Chemically, it’s pure carbon. If you picked up a piece of it, you might think you were holding a piece of lightweight coal or even charcoal. It’s black and shiny, but upon close examination its structure looks like it’s made of tiny needles all lined up and lying side by side. Hence the name.

We sell it in bulk, by the metric ton. The pieces range in size from dust up to about softball size.

What’s it good for? One thing only: needle coke is the raw material used to make graphite electrodes. These electrodes conduct electricity into a huge refractory-(brick)-lined pot half-filled with scrap steel at Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) steel mills. Scrap steel like automobile bodies, old railroad tracks... you name it.

The electricity arcs between the graphite electrodes and the steel creating extreme, intense heat. Thus the steel is melted and can be poured out into castings to make new steel products. This is a very efficient method of steel manufacture, plus it’s a form of recycling on an industrial scale.

As the article referenced in yesterday’s post tells, outside of Japan (which doesn’t export) there are only two suppliers in the whole world of needle coke. My plant is one of those two. You talk about a niche market — this is it!

Who buys it? There are about 15 companies in the entire world that make these graphite electrodes—they are our customers. We ship to 5 companies in the US; and to Russia, China, India, Germany, France and Poland. So in the world (outside of Japan) there are two producers and maybe 15 potential buyers.

No need to advertise. All potential customers already know us well.

What’s it made from? Oil. Specifically from Decant Oil, the heavy tower bottoms that are left over from the catalytic cracking process of refining crude oil into gasoline. This oil is also sold as a fuel product, so its price has risen over the past year or so right along with the price of crude. Yes, our costs have gone up a bunch!

How much does it cost? Starting in July of this year we announced that all future sales would be priced at $1,500 per metric ton.

Are you bored yet? Sorry you asked?

Well, don’t feel stupid if you didn’t know what it was. I’d guess that well over 99% of the world’s population has never heard of it and couldn’t care less.

But it sure pays my bills and helped put my girls through college!

Now, the next time you’re at a cocktail party and the conversation turns to coke, you can wow ‘em with your knowledge!


Christina said...

Except I doubt that's the "coke" being referred to and people might think you are really square.

As for "Bohdanka", I would guess Russian?

Duke_of_Earle said...

Bohdanka, like Ilona (her mother), is a Czeck name. Russian was a good guess, though.

Monica said...

o-kayyy. Well, that was interesting. I wonder how many people will get your blog after googling drugs?...needles?...cocaine? just a question :)

Hale McKay said...

Actually I had heard of it before - (Thanks Science, Discovery and Learning Channels) - but I didn't know much about it.
...I, for one, found it interesting. Now I can say that I not only have heard of needle coke, I know what it is and what its used for!

schnoodlepooh said...

wow, you're famous. I had no idea what you're talking about, but I've just learned something new and I can't wait to share it!

robotJAM said...

Duke, can I put you donw to be my "phone a friend" for coke manufacture questions on who wants to be a zillionaire ?

kenju said...

I love knowing stuff like this - if I can just remember it...LOL

Candace said...

That needle-like structure - that's under a microscope, right?

I'm with Kenju - love to know stuff, but damn hard to remember it these days!

Badabing said...

Hehe...coke, needle, pot...if there's a 'bowl' or a 'pipe' or a 'bong' in that manufacturing process one could sure have some interesting cocktail party conversation.

Michelle said...

One is never too old to learn. Thanks for that - it was very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Were there is a will there is a way. This is a very interesting industry that exists. Most people know nothing, but some people know everything. It has its ups and it has it's downs. "Duke_Of_Earle", the last part of this name seems quite familiar. All I have to say is buy. Not just anything, but more specifically, STEEL. As the author of this article states, "it sure pays my bills and helped put my girls through college!" I hope this remains true for me as well.

Brian said...

Being that Seadrift is one of my potential customers, and can help my bills - YES, it is interesting!

Ananta said...

thanx a lotttt at u tell me what is the condition for optimization of carbonization conditions for needle coke production from a low-sulfur petroleum vaccum residue?????

i m a chemical engineering year...i want 2 undergo in this topic regarding my final project...

Duke_of_Earle said...


Why don't you contact me through the email address on this blog and I'll tell you more. Unless you're really working for a competitor!

Anonymous said...

hello, this information is very useful, I was looking for soderger electrode paste at a chinese supplier and they offered needle coke, so it is real from china?

j. said...

And, what's the difference between needle coke and petcoke?

Duke_of_Earle said...

J: petcoke is just short for "petroleum coke." Needle coke is made from petroleum, so all needle coke IS petcoke. However, NOT all petcoke is needle coke! Just about every gasoline refinery has a coker unit that makes a form of petcoke. Most of that is sponge coke, or shot coke, of some other form of coke. The difference is that ONLY needle coke has the combination of properties (low coefficient of thermal expansion or "CTE," high electrical conductivity, etc.) that allows its use in graphite electrodes. That's what makes it so valuable.

Pablo Rocha said...

Are you sure? Are there any other producers in China?
Which is the global demand?


Duke_of_Earle said...


Am I sure . . . about what?

You ask if there are any other producers in China. Last I heard, China had some companies making coke from pitch, but not needle coke. However I'm not really a "global expert."

Finally, global demand varies tremendously, but usually tracks global production of steel following that commodity's ups and downs. Which is logical, since the coke that is converted to graphite in electrodes is consumed in the production of EAF steel.

rutul said...

hi duke,

I am interested in knowing more about needle coke its pricing and availability from your company at global level.


Anonymous said...

Thanx a lot for this information..i hv a project in my college regarding the setting up of a plant for needle coke production.. can u provide me with the process and a flow diagram for the manufacture of needle coke..Thanks..

Duke_of_Earle said...

Sid: I'm dubious about your college project. The scope of your question could take volumes to answer, even if I were qualified (which I'm not). In a nutshell, the process of setting up a plant involves at least several hnudred million US$ (depending on expected output) and years of engineering work.

Best of luck!

Duke_of_Earle said...

Today I received an automatic email notification that there was a new post on this blog page by "Anonymous." Curious, I looked. No comment was there.(??)

Below is what the email indicated Anonymous had said, and my reply:

Hi there again!

Another question, I'm searching for market information about needle coke. Is there any publication or monthly report that indicates the global needle coke prices, or any kind of base price?

As you may know, there are publications like Ryan's Notes, Ferroalloys, CRU, etc. that publish ferroalloy or raw material prices. My question is, do you know any other publication, or another kind of information data base that can have this information?


PS. Have a nice weekend :)

Dear Anonymous,

First, to answer your question: Seadrift Coke subscribed for years to a monthly publication called “Carbon Databank.” It’s produced by an individual (I think) who resides in Delaware and contains information concerning production levels and some pricing indications (not exact numbers) on steel, graphite electrodes, and needle coke. I’ve asked a friend at the plant for more specific information (contact information on the publisher) and will report that as soon as I get it. Check back here in the next week or two.

Second, I have now retired and have not been working since the end of March of this year. I’d be happy to respond by direct email rather than posting comments to this 6+ year old blog post. My email address is

shivam lal said...

Can you please tell me some other uses of needle coke other than in graphite electrodes? Thanks in advance!!