Umicore is to build a facility for cathode active materials and their precursors in Loyalist, Ontario. Construction is due to start in 2023 with operations beginning in 2025. By 2050, it will produce enough to power about one million electric vehicles. The plant will be run entirely on renewable energy.
Umicore has agreed to develop high-performance catholyte materials for solid-state batteries with Japan’s Idemitsu Kosan, combining its expertise in cathode active materials (CAMs) for lithium-ion batteries with that of Idemitsu Kosan in high-purity lithium sulfide. Catholytes combine CAMs and solid electrolytes, enabling solid-state batteries to achieve better performance.
Umicore has officially inaugurated its new global R&D centre for cathode materials next to its existing R&D centre and production plants in Cheonan, Korea. Operational since April, this comprises a 30,000 m2 building complex, with space for growth.
The focus of research will continue to be next-generation battery materials, including very high-nickel NMC, low-cobalt NMC, manganese-rich chemistries as well as solid-state battery materials technology. The centre also houses a large battery cell laboratory with testing capabilities.
Subject to final agreements and customary conditions, including regulatory approvals, Umicore and Volkswagen will establish a joint venture in precursor and cathode material production in Europe. This will begin in 2025 with initial production of 20 GWh/year for the plant in Salzgitter, Germany, and should grow to 160 GWh/year by 2030, enough to power about 2.2 million full electric vehicles.
Umicore has signed separate five-year, renewable lithium supply agreements with two companies, Ganfeng Lithium of Jiangxi, China, and Vulcan Energy Resources of Karlsruhe, Germany. Both are integral to its cathode business and to its own environmental commitment.
The agreement with Ganfeng Lithium will come into effect in 2022 and will cover a significant part of Umicore’s future lithium requirements in Asia. The lithium is mined from hard-rock deposits in Australia under strict sustainability standards.
BASF and Umicore have entered into a non-exclusive patent cross-license agreement covering a broad range of cathode active materials (CAMs) and their precursors. CAMs are used in lithium-ion batteries and both firms have been investing in them heavily, creating what they called “sizeable and largely complementary patent portfolios”.
Umicore has announced plans to streamline its cobalt activities in the Cobalt & Specialty Materials business unit in order to strengthen its competitive position. This will lead to about €55 million in charges.
The unit, which makes cobalt and nickel speciality chemicals for a wide-range of non-battery applications, has been facing increasing competition in many markets and in cobalt refining in recent years.