Teamwork and collaboration are key to Umicore’s breakthrough with manganese rich HLM technology
Earlier this year, Umicore marked a major milestone when we announced the industrialisation of manganese-rich HLM (high lithium, manganese) battery materials technology. Targeting commercial production for electric vehicles (EVs) in 2026, this breakthrough is the result of years of pioneering work and collaboration by Umicore’s R&D and innovation teams.
HLM is one of the most promising new battery materials for the design to cost segment of the EV market. With less nickel and no cobalt, the manganese-rich chemistry offers lower metal costs and high energy density. Crucially, it could challenge lithium iron phosphate (LFP), as it offers longer driving ranges, equivalent safety, and better recyclability. As such, it is seen as one of the most promising new battery materials technology, and Umicore has established an early lead in the market.
It all started 10 years ago
Umicore’s R&D and innovation teams first started working on HLM around 10 years ago. In the meantime, with maturity on battery material technologies some of the initial hurdles to HLM development were overcome giving Umicore important early learnings. As such, Umicore is now in a strong position relative to its competitors to meet customers’ growing appetite for this battery material technology.
Hisashi, Program Director Batteries, explains how the process began: “In Corporate R&D, we work on technologies that are at least five years or more from hitting the market. In the case of HLM, in the early stages, we focused on solving the technical hurdles that could prevent the technology moving to industrialisation. We had a different mindset to others in our sector, in that we approached our work with the clear intention to industrialise. That’s why we were in such a strong position to offer HLM material to customers when they became interested – because we were ready to scale the technology up to large quantities.’’
From proof of concept to industrialisation through collaboration and partnership
Active collaboration is essential in the journey of HLM from lab to commercialisation with teams working closely together within Umicore and with external partners, including customers and research institutions.
Crucial in the process was the close partnership between Corporate R&D and the New Business Incubation (NBI) unit, which identifies winning technologies from Umicore’s innovation pipeline that have the potential to scale into mature businesses over a horizon of five to 15 years.
Pierre-Etienne, Umicore’s Innovation & Research Program Manager, explains how this process worked in the case of HLM: “Our job was to take the technology developed by our R&D colleagues and build it into a proof of concept that makes good business sense for Umicore and for our customers. To do that, we need to work closely with different teams on the technical and chemistry aspects, as well as with our Strategic Insights and Analysis team who study the market mega-trends. We also partnered with car and battery cell manufacturers to understand what they needed from the material, how it would be used, and how we could make it. To develop battery technologies like this one we work in an ecosystem of partnerships.’’
Once the proof of concept for HLM was developed, a scalable business case was built and shared with our battery materials unit. The critical moment came when we showed that we could provide large quantities of HLM to customers for testing. Today, Umicore has entered into product-development programmes with several car and cell manufacturers to fast-track our proprietary high-capacity, low-cost, and recyclable HLM solution.
The future market for HLM
Looking at the commercial market for HLM, S.H. Lee, Senior R&D Programme Manager, says: “HLM is not the only option for the low-cost EV segment. In China for example, LFP is very popular. It has no nickel or cobalt, so also offers lower costs. There are probably three or four chemistries in this low-cost segment. An important differentiator for HLM is that it uses the same manufacturing footprint as nickel, manganese cobalt (NMC), which means we can produce HLM in our existing plants in Europe and Asia, and future plants elsewhere. That means Umicore can leverage its existing assets in HLM production to minimize costs and reduce additional investments, thereby offering OEMs a strong supply chain of low-cost cathodes’’
By adding HLM to our existing NMC portfolio, we will be able to cater for all segments in this fast-growing and rapidly evolving market.’’