Umicore to venture into cheaper manganese-rich HLM batteries

Belgian battery materials specialist Umicore announces it will start industrial production of cheaper manganese-rich HLM battery materials to be used in electric vehicles from 2026, next to its ‘premium’ NMC battery materials.

It believes “HLM is gaining traction with car and battery cell manufacturers as a differentiating lower-cost, high energy-density, and sustainable battery technology”. Umicore says HLM batteries will offer better cost of ownership, longer driving ranges, equivalent safety, and better recycling capabilities, among others, than today’s LFP batteries.

World’s biggest battery recycling plant

Umicore, with 11 000 employees and 46 production sites, is a world player in producing cathode materials for batteries and a specialist in recycling battery materials merely from laptops and smartphones.

In the summer, it announced it would invest half a billion euros in a new EV battery recycling plant in Europe, the biggest in the world. The location is yet to be decided, defined by good logistics and the availability of qualified personnel. It should be operational by 2026 and recycle 150 000 tons per year. So the choice for HLM batteries that are easier to recycle is no coincidence.

No expensive nickel and cobalt

HLM (high lithium, manganese) batteries use next to huge lithium amounts of manganese but no rare and expensive materials like nickel or cobalt, used in NMC (nickel, manganese, cobalt) batteries.

These batteries are best suited for performant, long-range EVs but come at a higher price, which can make up to 40% of the car’s total cost. Yet NMC batteries are found in many EVs today, from the Nissan Leaf to Mercedes-Benz EQS.

They have a higher energy density (200 Wh/kg), provide longer EV ranges, and perform better in colder conditions, but are more expensive (€130/kWh) and have a shorter cycle life. That’s why most carmakers advise charging the battery to 80% only to extend its life cycle.

Popular in China

The cheaper LFP batteries gained popularity in China. They have a lower cost ($90/kWh) and guarantee a higher life cycle (with less degradation). That’s why they can be charged up to 100% without a problem. But the other side of the coin is a lower density (160 Wh/kg) and poorer cold weather performance.

These batteries are used by Tesla in its lower-range Model 3 or Model Y, or by Chinese BYD, for instance. The latter developed the so-called blade battery, essentially a lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) battery, but in a new approach to significantly increase safety and volumetric energy density and reduce costs.

Single cells are ordered in a matrix and put together in a battery pack. The optimized structure allows a 50% space saving compared to conventional lithium batteries, giving an EV like the Atto 3, a more extended range at a lower cost. It counters the classic drawbacks of the LFP battery.

Belgian Umicore never ventured into LFP because producing the materials is a different technology. Contrary to the HLM battery materials, it wants to start producing now. That’s a similar technology as used at Umicore’s (NMC) battery materials plants in Korea, Poland, and a future factory in Canada.






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