Is Graphite a Metal? (+ 3 Surprising Facts to Know)

No, graphite is not a metal. It is a form of carbon and is classified as a nonmetal. While graphite exhibits properties of a conductor, it does not have the characteristic properties of metals, such as malleability, ductility, and metallic luster. 1

Well, this was just a simple answer. But there are few more things to know about this topic which will make your concept super clear.

So let’s dive right into it.

Key Takeaways: Is graphite a metal?

  • Graphite is a nonmetal due to its lack of metallic properties, such as malleability and metallic luster.
  • Graphite exhibits both metallic properties (electrical and thermal conductivity) and nonmetallic properties (brittleness, lack of metallic luster, and low density).
  • Graphite’s unique layered crystal structure and directional conductivity set it apart from other nonmetals.

Why is graphite a nonmetal?

Graphite is a nonmetal because it does not possess the characteristic properties of metals, such as malleability, ductility, and metallic luster. Additionally, graphite has a layered crystal structure with weak interlayer bonding, leading to its soft and slippery nature. 2

Graphite is composed of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice, forming layers that are held together by weak van der Waals forces. 3 Unlike metals, which have closely packed arrangements of atoms and a sea of delocalized electrons, graphite lacks the ability to conduct electricity effectively in all directions.

Instead, it conducts electricity along the layers due to the presence of delocalized electrons within those planes.

Furthermore, graphite exhibits a nonmetallic appearance, appearing as a dark gray to black material. 4 It is brittle and easily breaks apart, lacking the malleability and ductility typically associated with metals. The weak interlayer bonding allows the layers to slide over one another easily, resulting in the characteristic lubricating and low-friction properties of graphite.

In summary, graphite is classified as a nonmetal due to its absence of metallic properties, including malleability, ductility, metallic luster, and efficient conductivity in all directions. Its layered crystal structure, weak interlayer bonding, and limited electrical conductivity contribute to its nonmetallic nature.

Metallic and nonmetallic properties of graphite

Graphite exhibits both metallic and nonmetallic properties.

Metallic properties of graphite:

  • Electrical conductivity: Graphite can conduct electricity, but only in the plane of its layers. This is due to the presence of delocalized electrons within the hexagonal lattice. 5
  • Thermal conductivity: Graphite has high thermal conductivity, allowing it to efficiently transfer heat. 6

Nonmetallic properties of graphite:

  • Lack of malleability and ductility: Graphite is brittle and easily breaks apart, lacking the characteristic ability of metals to be shaped or drawn into wires.
  • Absence of metallic luster: Graphite appears as a dark gray to black material, lacking the shiny appearance commonly associated with metals.
  • Low density: Graphite is not dense and has a relatively low density compared to metals.
  • Layered crystal structure: Graphite’s structure consists of layers held together by weak interlayer bonding. 7
  • Lubricating and low-friction properties: The weak interlayer bonding allows the layers to slide over one another easily, resulting in the characteristic lubricating and low-friction properties of graphite. 8 9

In summary, graphite demonstrates metallic properties such as electrical and thermal conductivity, while also exhibiting nonmetallic properties like brittleness, lack of metallic luster, low density, and unique characteristics related to its layered structure.

How does graphite differ from other nonmetals?

Graphite differs from other nonmetals in several ways:

  • Electrical conductivity: Unlike most nonmetals, graphite is a unique nonmetallic material that exhibits electrical conductivity. It can conduct electricity along the planes of its layered structure, thanks to the presence of delocalized electrons within those layers. In contrast, most other nonmetals are generally poor conductors of electricity.
  • Thermal conductivity: Another distinguishing characteristic of graphite is its high thermal conductivity. It has the ability to efficiently transfer heat, which is uncommon among nonmetals. Most other nonmetals have low thermal conductivity and are considered thermal insulators.
  • Crystal structure: Graphite possesses a layered crystal structure composed of hexagonally arranged carbon atoms. 10 This layered structure contributes to its unique properties, such as its lubricating and low-friction nature. In contrast, other nonmetals typically have different crystal structures, such as covalent or molecular structures.
  • Appearance and physical properties: Graphite has a distinct dark gray to black color and a metallic or semi-metallic luster. 11 It is also relatively soft and slippery due to its layered structure. In contrast, many other nonmetals have a variety of colors, ranging from colorless to vibrant hues, and often have brittle or powdery textures.
  • Conductivity in different directions: While graphite conducts electricity along the layers, it is not a good conductor in other directions. In contrast, some nonmetals, like silicon or germanium, can conduct electricity when in crystalline form, but their conductivity is usually limited to specific crystallographic directions.

In summary, graphite stands out among other nonmetals due to its electrical and thermal conductivity, layered crystal structure, unique appearance, and directional conductivity properties. These distinctions make graphite a versatile material with various applications, ranging from electrical components to lubricants.

Further reading

Is Graphite an Element?
Is Diamond an Element or a Compound?
Is Diamond a Mineral or a Rock?
Is Graphite a Mineral?
Why is Iron a Conductor?

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  1. Open Knowledge Wiki – What is Graphite. (n.d.). Open Knowledge Wiki – What Is Graphite.
  2. 14.4A: Graphite and Diamond – Structure and Properties. (2015, June 20). Chemistry LibreTexts.
  4. Graphite | carbon. (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica.
  5. Chemistry, life, the universe and everything. (n.d.). Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything.
  7. 7.2.5: Bonding and Properties of Solids – Chemistry LibreTexts. (2020, August 15). 7.2.5: Bonding And Properties of Solids – Chemistry LibreTexts.
  8. Wang, H. D. (2013). Graphite Solid Lubrication Materials. Encyclopedia of Tribology, 1550–1555.
  9. Zhang, Z., Simionesie, D., & Schaschke, C. (2014, April 24). Graphite and Hybrid Nanomaterials as Lubricant Additives. Lubricants, 2(2), 44–65.
  10. Graphite | carbon. (n.d.). Encyclopedia Britannica.
  11. Graphite | Common Minerals. (2023, January 1). Graphite | Common Minerals.

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