Umicore builds solid-state battery prototypes in Belgium
Umicore has officially opened its newest facility in Olen, Belgium, where it plans to produce solid-state battery prototypes. It is said to be a “large-scale prototyping centre for solid-state battery materials”.
Umicore’s involvement in this field comes as no surprise. The Belgian company has been working on solid-state battery chemistries since 2017 – supported, among other things, by company investments and collaborations. The group now set up the prototype facility by transforming an existing building in Olen. Covering 600 square metres, the new centre “supports the full chain of solid-state battery development — from the formulation of the materials, their characterisation and production, to battery cell assembly and subsequent testing on battery level”, Umicore says.
The holistic approach should enable the development of new material categories, including catholytes that combine active cathode materials and solid electrolytes.
Umicore stresses that the development of solid-state batteries involves materials that are extremely sensitive to moisture and therefore require a particular infrastructure, including exceptionally dry air. “Humidity levels inside Umicore’s laboratory are at less than 0.1 per cent as each hour 200,000m3 of dry air is blown through the facilities. Such dry air is essential for the accurate testing, analysis, and development of this next generation of cathode active materials”, the battery materials company specifies. Instead of working with “isolated glove boxes, researchers can manipulate products more freely in a larger, open area”.
Umicore has been involved with solid-state technology since 2017 and holds several key patents. In 2017, Umicore reportedly acquired three nickel-manganese-cobalt patent families for cathode materials from 3M. In May 2021, the company entered into a non-exclusive patent cross-licensing agreement with BASF covering a broad range of cathode materials and their precursors. The agreement covers more than 100 patent families filed in Europe, the US, China, Korea and Japan.
In mid-2021, Umicore announced a stake in the US solid-state battery specialist Solid Power. A year later, the group followed up with a cooperation with the Japanese energy company Idemitsu Kosan. And in June 2022, both sides agreed to jointly develop high-performance materials for solid-state batteries.
Now, the development will be pooled at the new centre in Olen. “Umicore’s unique prototyping centre will further scale up and advance our innovation and technology leadership in solid-state battery chemistries,” says Mathias Miedreich, CEO of Umicore. “We are committed to our frontrunner position in the cathode materials industry, and this new facility is a critical step in strengthening our leadership even further, increasing our capacity for prototyping and with that our ability to support our customers by a factor of more than ten.”
Umicore’s battery materials portfolio consists primarily of NMC (nickel, manganese, cobalt) technologies with medium to high nickel content. Soon, manganese-rich HLM (high lithium, manganese) technologies will be added, followed by Na-ion cathodes (sodium-ion) and solid-state battery technologies.