Why is Graphite Conductive? (+ 3 Things to Know)

Yes, graphite is conductive. 1 Its conductivity is due to its unique structure, where carbon atoms are arranged in layers. These layers have delocalized electrons that are free to move, allowing the flow of electric current through the material.

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: Why is Graphite a Conductor?

  • Graphite is conductive due to its unique atomic structure and arrangement of carbon atoms, allowing the movement of delocalized electrons.
  • Graphite’s conductivity is anisotropic, with high conductivity within its layers and relatively poor conductivity perpendicular to the layers.
  • Graphite finds applications as a conductor in industries such as electrical, electronics, aerospace, automotive, heating elements, and as coatings and lubricants.

Explanation: Why is Graphite a conductor?

Graphite is a conductor due to its unique atomic structure and the arrangement of its carbon atoms. While carbon is generally known as a nonmetal, graphite is an exception to this rule and exhibits properties of a conductor. 2

In graphite, carbon atoms are arranged in layers of hexagonal structures called graphene sheets. 3 Each graphene sheet is made up of a two-dimensional array of carbon atoms bonded together in a hexagonal lattice. Within each layer, carbon atoms are tightly bonded to each other through strong covalent bonds, forming a stable structure.

However, the layers in graphite are held together by weaker van der Waals forces, allowing them to slide past each other easily. 4 This gives graphite its characteristic lubricating and flaky nature. The presence of these weak interlayer forces also enables the movement of electrons within the material.

In graphite, there are delocalized electrons, which means that some of the outermost electrons of the carbon atoms are not confined to any specific atom or bond. Instead, they are free to move throughout the structure. These delocalized electrons are responsible for conducting electricity. 5

When a potential difference is applied across a graphite structure, the delocalized electrons can move along the layers of graphene, forming an electric current. The overlapping pi bonds between carbon atoms in the graphene sheets facilitate the movement of these electrons. This ability of electrons to move freely and conduct electricity is what makes graphite a conductor. 6

It’s important to note that while graphite is a conductor in the plane of its layers, it is a relatively poor conductor perpendicular to those layers. This anisotropic conductivity is due to the strong bonding within each layer and the weak interactions between the layers.

Uses of graphite as a conductor

Graphite, due to its excellent conductivity properties, finds numerous applications in various industries. Here are five common uses of graphite as a conductor:

  • Electrical Industry: Graphite is widely used in the electrical industry for its conductivity. It is commonly employed as an electrode material in batteries, fuel cells, and capacitors. 7 Graphite electrodes are also crucial in electric arc furnaces for steel production, where they carry high electrical currents to generate the heat required for melting and refining metals.
  • Electronics and Semiconductors: Graphite is utilized in electronic devices and semiconductors. It is commonly found in applications such as printed circuit boards (PCBs), where it acts as a conductor to provide electrical connections between components. Graphite is also used in heat sinks and thermal management systems, as it conducts heat away from electronic components.
  • Aerospace and Automotive Industries: Graphite is employed in aerospace and automotive applications that require high electrical conductivity. It is used in brushes and commutators for electric motors and generators, where it facilitates the transfer of electrical current between moving parts. 8 Additionally, graphite is utilized in lightning strike protection systems for aircraft, where it provides a conductive path for lightning to safely discharge. 9
  • Electrical Heating Elements: Graphite’s ability to conduct electricity and resist high temperatures makes it suitable for electrical heating elements. It is used in applications such as electric furnaces, heating elements for industrial processes, and heating components in home appliances like toasters and hairdryers.
  • Conductive Coatings and Lubricants: Graphite is often employed as a conductive coating or lubricant due to its electrical conductivity and lubricating properties. 10 It can be used to coat surfaces, such as in electrical contacts and slip rings, to ensure efficient electrical transfer and reduce friction. Graphite-based lubricants are utilized in various industrial applications to reduce wear and friction between moving parts. 11 12

These are just a few examples of the many uses of graphite as a conductor. Its versatility, combined with its excellent conductivity properties, makes it a valuable material in numerous industries where electrical conductivity is essential.

Further reading

Is Graphite a Metal?
Is Graphite an Element?
Is Diamond an Element or a Compound?
Is Diamond a Mineral or a Rock?
Is Graphite a Mineral? 

About author

Jay is an educator and has helped more than 100,000 students in their studies by providing simple and easy explanations on different science-related topics. He is a founder of Pediabay and is passionate about helping students through his easily digestible explanations.

Read more about our Editorial process.


  1. Graphite – Wikipedia. (2023, March 17). Graphite – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphite
  2. Carbon – Wikipedia. (2007, December 6). Carbon – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon
  3. McENANEY, B. (1999). Structure and Bonding in Carbon Materials. Carbon Materials for Advanced Technologies, 1–33. https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-008042683-9/50003-0
  4. Fsu.edu https://web1.eng.famu.fsu.edu/~dommelen/quantum/style_a/solcov.html
  5. Delocalized electron – Wikipedia. (n.d.). Delocalized Electron – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delocalized_electron
  6. Yang, G., Li, L., Lee, W. B., & Ng, M. C. (2018, August 29). Structure of graphene and its disorders: a review. Science and Technology of Advanced Materials, 19(1), 613–648. https://doi.org/10.1080/14686996.2018.1494493
  7. Zhang, H., Yang, Y., Ren, D., Wang, L., & He, X. (2021, April). Graphite as anode materials: Fundamental mechanism, recent progress and advances. Energy Storage Materials, 36, 147–170. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ensm.2020.12.027
  8. Graphite Coatings Market to Hit $570.02 Billion by 2033: Fact.MR Report. (2023, May 19). Yahoo Finance. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/graphite-coatings-market-hit-570-130000189.html
  9. Nasa.gov https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/20110014829/downloads/20110014829.pdf
  10. Wang, H. D. (2013). Graphite Solid Lubrication Materials. Encyclopedia of Tribology, 1550–1555. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-92897-5_1261
  11. Huai, W., Zhang, C., & Wen, S. (2020, November 25). Graphite-based solid lubricant for high-temperature lubrication. Friction, 9(6), 1660–1672. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40544-020-0456-2
  12. BOLLMANN, W., & SPREADBOROUGH, J. (1960, April). Action of Graphite as a Lubricant. Nature, 186(4718), 29–30. https://doi.org/10.1038/186029a0

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top