Boost for germanium consumption

Materials technology group Umicore is to increase significantly its production capacity for germanium semi-conductor substrates for use in high-efficiency solar cells. Umicore will also invest in the expansion of its capacity for lithium-ion battery materials. The combined investment level is expected to reach some € 45 million. The new production capacity for germanium wafers is to be set up at its Quapaw site in Oklahoma, USA. Construction will start in July and is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2010. The facility will complement Umicore’s existing production site in Olen, Belgium, effectively doubling Umicore’s wafer production capacity to 900,000. Quapaw has the advantage of being close to the activity’s sizeable customer base in the USA.

The new capacity is to support the expected rapid growth of the terrestrial concentrator photovoltaic market which could top 6 gigawatts by 2020 (requiring the equivalent of some 10 million wafers). Concentrator technology has the potential to become the driving force behind the market for germanium wafers. Currently, these are mainly used in solar cells for space applications and to a more limited extent in the production of LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes).

Umicore is the world leader in the production of germanium wafers for use in high-efficiency solar cells, equiping most currently launched satellites and also longer range missions such as NASAs current Phoenix Mars Lander.

Umicore will also expand its production capacity for cathode materials for use in lithium-ion rechargeable batteries at its facilities in Cheonan (South Korea) and Jiangmen (China). This represents the single most significant investment in the history of Umicore’s Rechargeable Batteries business line and will lead to capacity rising to approximately 10,000 tonnes per year – an increase of more than 50%. It is anticipated that the new production lines will be installed by the end of 2008 and that they will be fully operational by the second quarter of 2009.

The investments will enable Umicore to keep pace with the fast-growing demand from its key customers and will also provide the production platforms for next generation battery materials and their precursors. The new production lines will offer the ability to produce lithium cobaltite and also new low-cobalt containing compounds containing nickel, manganese and/or aluminium. These compounds will serve customers who are present in the new, high-growth applications for lithium-ion batteries such as cordless power tools and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). Such applications demand particularly innovative battery materials solutions which optimize safety, cost and weight whilst also offering outstanding performance characteristics for the battery.

Umicore is a world leader in the development of materials for lithium-ion batteries and also offers the worlds most efficient and eco-friendly recycling service for used rechargeable batteries.