Umicore starts industrialization of manganese-rich CAM production

Battery materials firm Umicore has started the industrialization of its high lithium, manganese (HLM) cathode active material (CAM), it said, and was targeting commercial production and use in electric vehicles in 2026

HLM CAMs offer lower cost and high energy density as well as sustainable battery technology, according to an announcement by Umicore on Monday February 13. The company plans to produce HLM CAMs at its facilities in South Korea and in Poland, as well as at a planned facility in Canada.

“Umicore reaffirms its front-runner position in battery technology with our manganese-rich HLM technology moving closer to commercial production for future customers, and provides an optimum alternative for the production of low-cost electric vehicle [EV] batteries,” Ralph Kiessling, Umicore’s executive vice president for energy and surface technologies, said.

The announcement added that industrialization of HLM would complement Umicore’s portfolio of nickel, manganese and cobalt (NCM) battery materials.

Battery raw material prices for nickel, cobalt and lithium have prompted market participants to consider alternative battery chemistries, one of these being chemistries with higher manganese content.

Fastmarkets assessed the price of manganese sulfate, 32% Mn min, battery grade, exw mainland China, at 6,000-6,300 yuan ($879-923) per tonne on February 9, down from 6,200-6,500 yuan per tonne in the previous session a week earlier.

This price was also down compared with 9,000-10,000 yuan per tonne in March 2022, when Fastmarkets began to track the price.

Market participants in China told Fastmarkets in 2022 that the market for manganese sulfate was weak due to poor demand following Covid-19-related lockdowns in the East Asian country, with some saying that it could take one or two years for prices to recover.

Manganese ‘more affordable’ battery material

Compared with other metals in the NCM suite of chemistries, manganese stands out as a more affordable ingredient.

On the London Metal Exchange, the three-month price of nickel, for example, closed at $27,045 per tonne on Friday, up from $23,400 per tonne on the corresponding day last year. The price also briefly touched an all-time high above $100,000 per tonne in March 2022.

And Fastmarkets assessed the price of cobalt, standard grade, in-whs Rotterdam, at $15.70-17.00 per lb ($34,613-37,470 per tonne) on Monday, unchanged from the previous session but down from its 2022 high of $39.75-40.50 per lb on May 3.

Meanwhile, the price of the other key ingredient in Umicore’s focus on a manganese-rich battery, lithium, remained close to record highs.

The price of lithium hydroxide monohydrate LiOH.H2O 56.5% LiOH min, battery grade, spot price cif China, Japan & Korea, was assessed at $75-78 per kg on Monday, unchanged since February 3 but down from $83-84 per kg at the start of the year.

Fastmarkets research has forecast that lithium hydroxide prices on a CIF China, Japan and Korea basis would average $65.50 per kg in 2023 and $61.00 per kg in the following year because of the growing supply.

While market participants said that manganese sulfate was a more affordable option for now, geopolitical risks – combined with a long-term increase in demand – could be bullish factors for the material.

Prospective battery grade producer Giyani Metals told Fastmarkets in an interview last November that 94% of global supply comes from China. It added that, if Western countries continued to localize supply chains through policies such as the Inflation Reduction Act in the US, there would be little supply emerging from countries outside of China.

Visit our dedicated battery materials page to discover more insights on the factors at play in the industry in 2023 and beyond.

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