Umicore plans to invest a total of approximately €60 million (US$81 million) to increase its capacities and capabilities for the production of new generation cathode materials for lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.
Umicore’s current Cellcore cathode product range includes materials ranging from lithium cobaltite (Cellcore KDS) to nickel cobalt aluminium (Cellcore QX) and nickel manganese cobalt (NMCs and sold as Cellcore MX). Umicore’s investments will focus on the further development and production of NMC-type cathode materials and will result in Umicore’s yearly production capacity for NMCs increasing more than threefold by 2013.
NMC materials in general offer a capacity of about 170 mAh g-1 when cycling to 4.3 V vs. lithium, but have the ability to increase their capacity to levels approaching 250 mAh g-1 at higher potential. Achieving these higher capacities currently results in a decrease in the life of the battery, however. (Earlier post.)
The investments will involve an increase in production capacity at Umicore’s existing operations in Cheonan (South Korea) and Jiangmen (China) and the construction of a greenfield production site and technical center in Japan.
Demand for lithium ion batteries is set to surge in the coming years. We see strong signals that nickel manganese cobalt compounds will be a major cathode chemistry for key applications such as notebook PCs and batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles. The announced investments will further cement Umicore’s position as a leading global cathode materials producer and will further strengthen our global customer offering.
The establishment of a bridgehead in Japan will improve Umicore’s ability to serve its Japanese customers and this local presence will also support the development of Umicore’s closed-loop business for the recycling of rechargeable batteries, particularly those used in the automotive sector.
—Umicore CEO Marc Grynberg
The investment in Japan will enable Umicore to develop a vital production presence in Japan. The new operation will be situated in Kansai area (Western Japan), and will focus initially on the development and production of NMC materials. The investment will also incorporate a new application laboratory for the testing and validation of materials for customers. The laboratory will be capable of full cell production for testing purposes. The new facility is expected to begin qualifying with customers and ramping up production in 2011.
The investment in South Korea involves the expansion of the existing plant in Cheonan and will enable the operation to increase its production capacity for NMC compounds. The new facility will begin qualification and production ramp-up during 2011 and will support the increasing customer demand for NMC type cathode materials for notebook PC batteries as well as emerging automotive battery applications.
In order to support the development of the operations in South Korea and Japan a capacity increase has been foreseen for precursor materials in the Jiangmen Umicore Chancsun (JUC) joint venture in China.