Millions of Euros
Umicore: an innovation & technology leader
Umicore is an innovation and technology leader, combining in chemistry, material science and metallurgy. From battery materials, automotive catalysts, fuel cell catalysts, thermal imaging lenses used in firefighting and security to the electroplating and thin film products that go into high-performance surface products and decorative materials, our innovations are behind many of the cutting-edge products enabling progress in the modern world. Next to creating leading materials solutions we embed circularity entirely in our innovation approach, recycling all valuable elements to a maximum and in a sustainable way.
Innovation and technology are at the heart of everything we do at Umicore, while research and development (R&D) are the lifeblood. It’s fitting then that the “I” from innovation is the second pillar and integral to our new 2030 RISE Strategy, unveiled in June 2022. Our future success depends on us maintaining our technological advantage and value creation.
We consistently invest in innovation to meet the growing demand for innovative and sustainable clean mobility materials and for state-of-the-art recycling services to close the loop of precious and other valuable metals.
“Innovation and technology are at the heart of everything we do at Umicore, while research and development are the lifeblood.”
Yves van Rompaey, SVP, Corporate Research & Development
Partner of choice
Umicore is known for the breadth and depth of its internal expertise and know-how, with leading international scientific and engineering talent dedicated to developing the next generation of sustainable products and process technologies. Thanks to our team’s in-depth knowledge of metallurgy and materials science, a significant part of our technology is delivered using our own R&D findings.
With fast-moving societal megatrends, including the accelerating move to cleaner mobility and electromobility, as well as the need for a circular economy, we cannot find all the solutions by relying on our internal expertise alone. That is why Umicore’s community of over 1300 scientists is forging partnerships and developing technologies through market intelligence and open innovation with leading industrial or academic partners and start-ups. Further internationalization of corporate R&D by linking with global ecosystems will be vital in driving up the speed but driving down the complexity and, ultimately, ensuring the success of strategic ambitions.
R&D at Umicore is the cornerstone of our technological development
Umicore’s innovations push the boundaries of clean mobility and recycling, and contribute to a sustainability-driven world and the green economy. Innovation is embedded in the core of our business and our strategy – adding value across the organization and supporting our long-term growth. At Umicore, innovation comprises: Corporate R&D; business-unit-level R&D; New Business Incubation (NBI); all of which are supported by essential innovation functions such as open innovation, IP, and strategic insights and analysis. Our community accelerates their own learning through the Umicore Technical and Digital Academy (UTDA).
Our Corporate R&D organization is a cornerstone of our technological development, connecting the R&D departments in our business units and ensuring that all parts of the businesses harness operational synergies for innovation and tap into our deep R&D expertise. In this way, we ensure that innovation is woven into the heart of the business and that our R&D insights are inspired by the market and the needs of our customers.
This is particularly true for clean mobility and recycling, where global megatrends as well as political and market demands are accelerating the pace of innovation. Umicore has an advanced position in this rapidly developing area, setting new industry standards with advanced and sustainable product and process technologies.
For clean mobility, we are a leader in automotive catalysts for emission control and fuel cells and are already a long-standing leader in cathode materials to power the EVs of today and tomorrow. For recycling, we are a pioneer in the fast-growing sector of EV battery recycling and an undisputed champion in precious metals recycling.
As part of its commitment to reduce diffuse emissions by 25% in 2025 versus 2020, Umicore is using sophisticated R&D modelling and innovative techniques to better identify the sources of metal to air emissions and enable teams to take action as we do for our recycling plant in Hoboken, Belgium.
Next-generation technology also helps us reduce energy consumption throughout our business and hence reach our decarbonization goals. Technological advancements are also vital in the capture of nitrous oxide, also already happening in Hoboken, and greenhouse gas emissions, particularly to reach our Let’s Go for Zero ambition of Net-Zero GHGs by 2035.
R&D expenditure in fully consolidated companies amounted to € 316 million, up 29% compared with € 245 million in 2021. This significant step-up reflects primarily increased spending in Rechargeable Battery Materials related to next generation design-to-performance and design-to-cost product and process technologies as well as ongoing customer qualifications. Umicore also increased R&D expenditure in battery recycling and advanced technological developments related to decarbonization and emission reduction programs to meet its ambition sustainability targets.
The R&D spend represented roughly 7.6% of Umicore’s 2022 revenues and capitalized development costs accounted for € 21 million of the total.
New Business Incubation (NBI)
Umicore created a New Business Incubator (NBI) some years ago aimed at further strengthening and expanding the Group’s innovation capabilities. The NBI works in a startup-based environment that benefits from the support and scale of Umicore’s global organization. At an early stage, the NBI identifies winning technologies with the potential to become mature businesses over a horizon of 5-15 years. The innovation pipeline is focused on sustainable product and process technologies that enable continued long-term business growth and secure our pioneering leadership in the areas of clean mobility materials, recycling and green hydrogen.
The NBI manages all aspects of business development, exploring, identifying and developing future business opportunities in adjacent and new markets. This allows Umicore to selectively expand in these markets in line with its strategy and strengths.
New incubators are set up within NBI as standalone businesses comparable to start-ups, in which the technology is deployed, pilot lines are built, and commercial sales portfolios are developed. Projects with the potential to reach industrial scale, combined with a strong business model, are transferred to an existing Umicore business unit or could become a new business unit in their own right.
In 2022, the NBI activities included solid state and silicon anode battery materials and exploration of opportunities related to hydrogen generation and storage. In early 2022, these battery recycling activities became one of the first ventures of NBI to graduate into a standalone business unit within Umicore, designated Battery Recycling Solutions (see "Battery Recycling" for more information). We also recently started theindustrialization of high lithium, manganese (HLM) technology as a low-cost high-energy density cathode materials solution with lower nickel (Ni) content.
Partnerships play an increasingly essential role in accelerating research and innovation. Our global Open Innovation team develops Umicore's technology innovation worldwide network and partnerships, including academia, peer companies and start-ups. Alongside our own research programs, Umicore promotes open innovation and supports the co-development of promising technologies for breakthrough materials and recycling solutions. In 2022, Umicore’s dedicated Open Innovation team was involved in over 200 open innovation partnerships focused on long term developments in the fields of materials for clean mobility and recycling solutions.
Continuous knowledge sharing, collaboration and our learning culture enable us to maintain our competitive edge and retain our status as an innovation and technology leader. In 2022, therefore, we organized the first, three-day Umicore Science and Technology Days. Over 300 participants in Antwerp, Belgium and Cheonan, South Korea joined the hybrid event.
Strategic insights and analysis
The Strategic Insights and Analysis team ensures we create a systematic and thorough understanding of market dynamics and industry roadmaps, using corporate forecasting methods and artificial intelligence to provide strategic input to our steering committees and innovation boards.
Clean Mobility & Recycling Innovation
The transportation sector is a major contributor to global CO2 emissions, producing approximately 7.6 billion metric tons of CO2 in 2021 up from 7.3 billion on 2020 levels.1 Passenger cars are responsible for a large part of this pollution. As such, the transition to zero-carbon mobility, with a combination of electric, hybrid and fuel cell vehicles, will play a key role in achieving international climate targets.
Umicore has unique strength in this fast-growing sector, where innovation is driven by the urgency of government climate targets, accelerating plans to phase out sales of fossil-fuel powered vehicles and the consequently accelerating penetration of battery and fuel cell electric vehicles. As a circular materials technology company, we provide a full offering to support this innovative roadmap towards ever cleaner vehicles.
We are 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.
We provide cathode materials for electric vehicles and the catalysts that are used to power fuel cell-driven vehicles. Most importantly, Umicore also has the capabilities to recycle all these materials and drivetrain components when they reach the end of life, thereby sustainably closing the loop. The scarce resources used in clean mobility technologies create a large carbon footprint from primary sourcing. The ability to recycle and re-use battery and catalysis materials is therefore crucial.
European regulation is setting ever stricter requirements and it is expected that Euro 7 emissions standards will be implemented in 2025, mandating unprecedented levels of cleanliness for ICE vehicles. Looking further ahead, we also anticipate more stringent emission standards in the United States for passenger cars (LEV IV and Tier 4 criteria in 2026) as well as significantly more stringent emissions standards for heavy-duty diesel (EPA and CARB in 2027). Current China 6 emission norms are one of the most stringent emissions standards in the world, and it is expected that China will implement even tougher China 7 emission standards for passenger cars and heavy-duty diesel transportation as of 2027. Furthermore, from January 2027, it is expected that automotive batteries will have to declare quantities of recycled content, and by January 2030, minimum levels of recycled content will be required, with higher minima enforced from 2035.
Umicore has a unique position in catalysis, supporting clean mobility across all drive-train technologies, with a leading position in gasoline and fuel cell applications. 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 carbon footprints.
Internal combustion engine catalysts
The upcoming global, stringent emission standards (EU7/CN7/US27) continue to drive the need for innovative catalyst technologies for light and heavy-duty Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) applications.One example of our cutting-edge innovations for light-duty gasoline applications is the recent launch of the new rhodium-saving “FlexMetal” technology. This new technology helps our customers meet the most stringent emission standards while balancing cost and performance with the optimized usage of platinum (Pt), palladium (Pd), and rhodium (Rh). This technology has already been tested and approved by several customers in Asia, Europe and the US.
As part of the upcoming EU7 emissions legislation proposal, the after treatment of gasoline engines potentially requires a new secondary emissions treatment (SET) technology for the abatement of ammonia. In 2022, Umicore introduced a break-through SET technology on the market, that will help our customers address the EU ammonia abatement standards.
As for light-duty vehicle applications, the aftertreatment of heavy-duty diesel engines faces increasingly stringent emission standards for NOx (nitrogen oxides, a key component of smog) and particulates. This requires state-of-the-art engine technology and innovative catalytic emission control systems.
Umicore, together with Scania, have developed a next generation Exhaust Aftertreament System (EATS). Using a twin-dosing selective Catalytic Reduction System (SCR) the EATS can remove NOx highly efficiently. Our newly developed UmiCOR® SCR technology in that twin-dousing system adds value for our customers by reducing CO2 levels in line with the proposed NOX EU7 emission standards.
Fuel cell catalysts
As we partner with our customers on the journey of mobility transformation, we believe that fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) will be increasingly important in our move to cleaner mobility, particularly for heavy transportation. That’s when Umicore’s experience comes into its own.
Umicore’s Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell catalysts are designed to provide the automotive industry and green hydrogen production with high performance fuel cells. With 30 years experience of manufacturing fuel-cell catalysts, Umicore has proven know-how in catalyst development, scale-up and industrial scale production.
To complement the development of fuel cell catalysts, in July 2022 Umicore announced that it would invest in building a large-scale fuel cell catalyst plant in Changshu in China to capture the fast-emerging growth in fuel cell technology. The plant will enable the accelerated transformation to hydrogen-based clean mobility, serving demand through to 2030. The facility will also be carbon neutral, reducing Scope 3 carbon emissions in the value chain.
Projects set up by Umicore in 2021 to explore opportunities in the generation and storage of hydrogen are ongoing. Development of PGM-based catalysts for Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carrier (LOHC) applications in a large scale port-to-port infrastructure continued throughout 2022. This technology uses existing diesel infrastructure and has the potential to transform the way hydrogen can be stored and used to power FCEVs. LOHC technologies provide an effective alternative to compressed hydrogen, as they allow hydrogen to be chemically bonded to a stable liquid organic carrier, aimed at making 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. The technology could also save significantly more energy than current commercial solutions. The fuel cell catalysts are being developed in a joint project together with Umicore, the University of Erlangen and Hydrogenous LOHC Technologies.
As part of its circular business model, Umicore recycles fuel cell catalysts re-using metals such as platinum, for fresh fuel cell catalyst production and further reducing their Scope 3 carbon footprint.
Driven by the global megatrend of mobility transformation to electrification, rechargeable battery materials are central to Umicore's ambitious 2030 RISE 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 a higher life cycle at a competitive cost, while always meeting the strictest safety standards. Our technology roadmap spans short-, mid- and long-term research horizons not only for lithium-ion battery materials but also sodium-ion and disordered rock salt battery materials.
High-nickel cathode chemistries are 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 chemistry. 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.
Europe’s first battery materials gigafactory
Umicore took a landmark step in 2022 when it inaugurated Europe’s first battery materials gigafactory in Nysa, Poland. This new carbon-neutral facility producing cathode active materials (CAM) for electric vehicle marks an important step in achieving the European Union’s ambition of having its own battery ecosystem that is both sustainable and competitive on a global scale.
“We’re very proud to open Europe's very first gigafactory for cathode active materials. Umicore's carbon-neutral facility in Nysa is a true enabler and accelerator of the e-mobility transformation across the EU.”
Mathias Miedreich, CEO of Umicore
Plans to construct a CAM and PCAM manufacturing facility in Ontario, Canada were announced in July 2022, representing another step for Umicore in establishing a truly global production presence with local-for-local battery value chains.
New technologies, such as silicone-based anodes can also boost the energy density in lithium-ion batteries, thanks to their higher capacity, and solid-state batteries are another area of our innovation focus. Solid-state batteries are expected to substantially increase the 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 its truly all-solid cell architecture, avoiding the use of liquid organic electrolyte. Alongside several leading car manufacturers and cell makers, Umicore has invested in Solid Power, a US developer of solid-state battery technology. In 2022, Umicore also partnered with Idemitsu to develop high-performance catholyte materials. Both investments demonstrate our commitment to furthering solid-state battery technology in partnership with key industry players.
In April 2022, a new global R&D center for cathode materials became fully operational in Cheonan, Korea. The new world-class R&D center is geared to the high performance and efficient development of cost-oriented cathode active materials, resulting in a top-notch technology partner for rechargeable battery materials. Later that month, Umicore announced that it had entered a strategic partnership with Automotive Cells Company (ACC) for EV battery materials in Europe.
Umicore is a global leader in recycling complex waste streams containing precious and other valuable metals. Our closed-loop business model is a powerful strategic differentiator that has helped us build a pioneering position in the recycling of rechargeable batteries. Our battery recycling plant in Hoboken, Belgium, has an annual input capacity of 7,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries and battery production scrap, the equivalent of 35,000 electrified vehicle (xEV) batteries.
As demand for electrified vehicles (xEVs) grows exponentially across the world, our 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. The technology provides input flexibility, as well as the robustness of pyrometallurgy. It is an effective, reliable, robust and scalable technology that is able to recover lithium in addition to cobalt, nickel and copper. The environmental impact of this process is better than any other alternative in the market.
The creation of the new Business Unit Battery Recycling Solutions, underlines our commitment to make battery recycling and our closed-loop model an essential part of our contribution to the sustainable electrification of the automotive industry. Our proprietary recycling technology is a significant step-up in recycling performance. With the increased extraction efficiency of cobalt, nickel and copper, yields can reach over 95% 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. The recovered metals will be delivered in battery-grade quality at the end of Umicore’s recycling process, allowing them to be re-introduced in the production of new lithium-ion batteries. 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. In early 2022, Umicore signed an agreement with ACC, to use our battery recycling services and technology for the needs of its pilot plant in Nersac, France.
We announced at our Capital Markets Day in June that we will be scaling up our capacity with a new 150,000-tons/year unit in Europe and will build on our experience in pyro-hydro technologies. A good starting point is our existing presence in Europe followed by the roll-out of a similar model in North America.
Digitalization accelerating innovation
With the future scale of our organization, the speed at which the world around us is changing, we need to excel at everything we do. Operational excellence and digitalization are key enablers to achieve our strategic ambitions.
Whether it is to optimize our processes, track emissions, reduce energy consumption, use robots to carry out dangerous activities or even provide more widespread access to training, digitalization is a vital tool in our ongoing innovation. Digitalization at Umicore is driven by healthy collaboration among different departments and teams. In 2022, at Umicore’s Science and Technology Days several organizations showcased how their digital solutions were helping to accelerate innovation and technology within Umicore.
Innovation and technology are so deeply rooted in our organization. Continued investment in R&D and "Next Gen" technology will be vital to achieving our bold, strategic ambitions on our journey to 2030.