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FlexMetal catalyst innovation becomes an industry game-changer


The challenge

Platinum Group Metals (PGMs), mainly Palladium (Pd) and Rhodium (Rh), play an essential role in reducing the pollutant emissions of internal combustion engines, thereby ensuring they meet ever-stricter emission standards. Over the years, Umicore’s innovations in automotive catalysts have resulted in a more efficient use of these precious metals. However, this trend has reversed as the latest standards, such as Euro7 and China7, require higher loadings of PGMs in catalysts. At the same time, the prices of Pd and Rh have surged, adding substantial extra costs for OEMs.

The solution 

Quickly responding to this critical market challenge, Umicore’s AC team launched a greenfield innovation project to explore the possibility of partially replacing some of the Pd and Rh in catalysts with a third metal, Platinum (Pt).

The profound expertise and know-how of Umicore’s AC unit, which has over 50 years' proven experience in catalysis chemistry, as well as state-of-the-art engine and vehicle testing capabilities, allowed the team to quickly respond to customers’ needs, resulting in an innovative tri-metal Pt/Pd/Rh, or FlexMetal catalyst technology.

Having developed the proof of concept in-house, Umicore worked with OEMs to bench-test the FlexMetal catalysts over hundreds of thousands of kilometers of simulated driving. Umicore supported its customers’ tests with its own in-house testing capabilities, providing initial test data that required only the OEMs’ final validations on specific applications.

The result

Having started the development process in mid-2021, the team was ready to commercially launch the first FlexMetal catalyst in the market just a year later, in 2022.

Umicore’s solution not only uses dramatically lower amounts of Rh and Pd, representing significant savings in PGM costs for OEMs, it is also compatible with all future engine emission standards (Euro7, China7). These ‘win-win’ benefits made it an immediate success, and Umicore’s FlexMetal technology is now widely adopted across the market, in Europe, North America, China and other regions.

Having made this key breakthrough, Umicore’s AC team is now working on further solutions that help OEMs adjust to changing market conditions. For example, because Rh is particularly expensive – costing even more than Pd – Umicore has developed additional offerings allowing the Rh content to be reduced next to the Pd content. This innovative approach is part of the FlexMetal product portfolio, offering Rh savings of up to 20%.  

Through these and other transformational innovations, the Automotive Catalysts team is showing its crucial role as a reliable transformation partner in the clean mobility journey, taking smart decisions and swift action to deliver ever-more efficient emissions control for our customers, with the most efficient use of precious resources.