Innovation in Mobility Transformation
With governments, regulators and customers demanding rapid reductions in emissions, the drive towards clean mobility is accelerating the pace of innovation. Umicore is well prepared to drive mobility transformation, being a trusted technology partner for car manufacturers across all clean mobility drivetrains and with expertise and market-leading innovations in four key areas:
Umicore is a global leader in the supply of automotive catalysts to clean the exhaust gases from internal combustion engines for light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles and for all fuel types. Our work focuses on innovative and efficient catalyst technologies, optimising the distribution of the catalytic material in the pores of the filter to enable an optimal balance of backpressure, filtration efficiency and chemical reactivity. Our continuous innovation in catalyst particles and technologies helps our customers comply with increasingly stringent emission regulations and meet targets to improve air quality and reduce CO2 footprints.
Umicore has proven innovation leadership in internal combustion engines (ICE) catalysis for light and heavy-duty vehicles. We are a leading gasoline catalyst player in Europe and China based on industry-benchmark technologies, with a disproportionate share of gasoline particulate filtration (GPF) platforms used in those markets. We work closely with leading car manufacturers on GPF technology for closed-coupled exhaust after-treatment. Next-generation technology includes a three-way catalyst (TWC) solution for reduced rhodium and palladium utilization, which has been qualified by manufacturers globally. We are also innovating with secondary emission TWCs for ammonia emission abatement and improving filtration efficiency of our GPF technology.
Likewise, Umicore is a development partner for many car manufacturers in heavy-duty diesel (HDD) vehicles, with co-development partnerships for advanced HDD after-treatment solutions. Our UmiCOR® catalysts are achieving ever-lower NOx emissions with optimized fuel efficiency and we offer a washable particulate filter with ultra-high filtration efficiency.
All of this next-generation technology is focused on critical developments in the fast-changing landscape of emissions standards.
Driven by the global megatrend of mobility transformation to electrification, rechargeable battery materials are central to Umicore 2030 RISE, our ambitious growth strategy.
Umicore is a leading producer of cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles and is committed to developing materials that deliver higher energy density, faster charging times and higher cycle life at a competitive cost, while always meeting the strictest safety standards. Our technology roadmap spans short-, mid- and long-term research horizons for lithium-ion battery materials.
High-nickel cathode chemistries are currently a strong focus of attention, as nickel helps deliver higher energy density. Umicore has successfully repositioned its offer to become a major player in high-nickel chemistries. This is a major factor behind our joint venture with PowerCo, the battery company of the Volkswagen Group for precursor and cathode material production capacities in Europe to supply PowerCo’s European battery cell gigafactories production.
Silicone-based anodes can also boost the energy density in lithium-ion batteries, thanks to their higher capacity. This is now an early-stage project within Umicore’s New Business Incubation unit.
Solid-state batteries are another area of our innovation focus. They are expected to substantially increase energy density compared to commercially-available lithium-ion batteries today, thus alleviating the two largest concerns for passenger EV adoption: cost and range anxiety. The safety profile of solid-state batteries also exceeds that of traditional lithium-ion as a result of their truly all-solid cell architecture, avoiding the use of liquid organic electrolyte. Together with several leading car manufacturers and cell makers, Umicore has invested in Solid Power, a U.S. developer of solid-state battery technology, and has partnered with Idemitsu to jointly develop high-performance catholyte materials demonstrating our commitment to furthering solid-state battery technology in partnership with key industry players.
Alongside its own research programs, Umicore promotes open innovation and supports the development of promising technologies for breakthrough battery materials. Umicore’s dedicated Open Innovation team is involved in over 140 open innovation collaborations focused on battery material development.
As we partner with our customers on the journey of mobility transformation, we believe that fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) will be an increasingly important part of the way forward for cleaner mobility, particularly for heavy transportation.
Fuel cells using green hydrogen only produce water, power and heat as by-products, with zero harmful emissions. Moreover, hydrogen fuel cells operate at relatively low temperatures, which improves their durability, and the quality of the generated power doesn’t degrade over time. On top of that, they have been successfully tested in the toughest conditions, including extreme cold or heat.
Fuel cells need a catalyst to facilitate the reaction of oxygen and hydrogen. Umicore has over 30 years’ experience of fuel cell catalyst development, scale-up and industrial production. As such, Umicore’s fuel cell innovations are well positioned to capture emerging growth as we cement our status as a leading provider of fuel cell catalysts.
The focus of our innovation in this area is the development of Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell catalysts. These are designed to provide the automotive industry and customers in green hydrogen power production with high-performance fuel cells. Within this work, Umicore is developing catalysts based on Platinum Group Metals (PGM). This technology has the potential to transform the way hydrogen can be stored and used to power FCEVs as it allows hydrogen to be chemically bonded to a stable liquid organic carrier (LOHC). This makes the storage and transportation of hydrogen safer, more practical and cost-efficient. As a result, LOHC technology may help to overcome some of the existing logistics and infrastructure challenges associated with the use of hydrogen as a fuel for clean mobility.
As more electric vehicles come onto the market, there will be an exponential growth in the number of EV batteries reaching end of life and requiring recycling. With EU regulation mandating that 90% of copper, cobalt and nickel and 35% of lithium must be recycled from used EV batteries by 2025 (95% and 70% respectively by 2030), the role of battery recycling will be critical to mobility transformation – as a major source of supply for battery materials and in the creation of a circular battery value chain.
Umicore’s battery recycling expertise and long-standing competences in hydro- and pyrometallurgy recycling processes place Umicore in a unique position to meet the needs of automotive manufacturers and the wider EV supply chain. And to support the circularity of mobility transformation, our closed-loop business model is a powerful strategic differentiator.
After intensive research and piloting activities, we are introducing our latest generation recycling technology, combining proprietary state-of-the-art pyro- and hydro-metallurgical processes to recycle a wide variety of batteries and production scrap materials in the most sustainable way. Our proprietary technology,, is a significant step-up in recycling performance, with increased extraction efficiency of cobalt, nickel and copper to reach over 95% yield for a wide variety of battery chemistries. This includes the capability to recover most of the lithium in EV batteries, solving a key constraint in existing recycling capacity.
As recycled metals have to compete against virgin materials for cost-efficiency, our battery recycling innovations are focused on achieving the highest yields with 20%-30% lower capital investment costs compared to other technologies. In addition, our innovation is focused on supplying recycled content that is future-proof for legislation, ensuring traceability (battery passport - link) and battery-grade quality for the production of new lithium-ion batteries.
What’s more, our technology is highly scalable, allowing us to expand our capacity in line with market demand.
With minimal waste and impact on the environment, this next-generation recycling technology will be vital for the surge in EV adoption, putting Umicore in a strong position to forge commercial partnerships in the EV value chain.