Umicore Invests In Production Capacity Expansions For Germanium Substrates & Rechargeable Battery Materials

July 02, 2008 by Jeff Shepard

Umicore Group announced that it will increase its production capacity for germanium semi-conductor substrates for use in 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 company states that both investments will strengthen Umicore’s offering of materials for usage in fast-growing clean technology applications.

The new production capacity for germanium wafers is to be set up at the Group’s Quapaw site in Oklahoma, United States. 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 the Group’s wafer production capacity to 900,000. Quapaw’s location is said to have the advantage of being close to the activity’s sizeable customer base in the United States.

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). The company claims that 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 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 tons 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.