The background story
The history of Umicore goes back more than 200 years. It all started with the coming together of a number of mining and smelting companies, which gradually evolved into the materials technology and recycling company Umicore is today.
Where it all began
On 17 December 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte granted Jean Dony control of the Vieille-Montagne mine in Moresnet, on what is today the border between Belgium and Germany.
It marked the beginning of what became in 1837 the 'Société Anonyme des Mines et Fonderies de Zinc de la Vieille-Montagne', the oldeste predecessor of the eventual Umicore company.
The story of another Umicore tendril, Union Minière, commenced in 1906. Union Minière du Haut Katanga (UMHK), as it was known at the time, produced copper and other metals in the Congo.
After the Zairian government nationalised the company's assets in 1968, UMHK set out to develop new mining and refining activities, eventually becoming a sub-holding of Société Général de Belgique.
The pieces of the puzzle
The merger in 1989 of Union Minière with it subsidiaries (Metallurgie Hoboken-Overpelt, Vieille-Montagne and Mechim) transformed Union Minière into an integrated industrial group.
Union Minière increasingly positioned itself as a specialty materials company throughout the late 1990s. Having already sold its remaining mining and other non-strategic assets, its focus was now on precious metals, high-margin zinc products and advanced materials.
To symbolise this trend of moving away from mining and the production of commodities and base metals, the Group changed its name to Umicore in 2001. The first two letters of the name are the initials to Union Minière, referring to the Group's historical roots.
A defining decade
The acquisition of PMG in 2003 added a new dimension to the company, including a major presence in the automotive catalyst sector. PMG was in fact the former precious metals unit of the German Degussa group - the very company that, in 1887, had been a founding shareholder of Umicore's Hoboken plant.
In 2005 Umicore spun off its copper business into a separate company called Cumerio, and two years later combined its zinc refining & alloys business with that of Zinifex, uniting them into a new company under the name Nyrstar.
At the conclusion of a ten-year transformation process, Umicore determined to focus on clean technologies including the development of new automotive catalysts, next generation rechargeable battery materials, fuel cell catalysts and membranes, and recycling processes. Umicore also broadened its geographical presence, notably in Asia.
Rising to the challenges posed by key megatrends, Umicore defined a new strategy combining technology and a business roadmap for the next five years with a fully integrated sustainable development approach and objectives. Umicore also began a new phase in the development of a new rechargeable battery facility in Belgium
A new Horizon
Laying the foundations for new products and processes, Umicore established new facilities including new R&D centers and its first business headquarters in Asia as part of a broader programme aimed at energy-related applications. Horizon 2020 became the new strategic plan, aiming to make Umicore a clear leader in clean mobility materials and recycling.
The realignment of Umicore’s portfolio of activities to simplify and sharpen its growth focus meant divestments as well as new acquisitions, including the sale of two historic zinc-focused business units, Technical Materials and part of the Thin Film Products business. New acquisitions include stationary catalysis and a second cobalt refinery in Kokkola, Finland. The optimized portfolio reduced the number of business units from fifteen to nine. As part of its objective of turning sustainability into a competitive edge, Umicore obtained third party assurance for its sustainable procurement framework for cobalt.
The three megatrends identified as business drivers for Umicore : resource scarcity, clean air and electrification of the automobile, are ever-more pronounced. We have succeeded in becoming a clear leader in clean mobility materials and recycling.
The Group generated revenues (excluding metal) of € 3.4 billion (turnover of € 17.5 billion) in 2019 and currently employs 11,152 people.