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September 16, 2021

How Imerys is fully committed to the lithium-ion batteries market

The lithium-ion battery market has vastly expanded in recent years and our Graphite & Carbon business is fully committed to support this market growth.

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In this Q&A we speak to Frank Wittchen, our Graphite & Carbon VP, to find out how the business is growing. 

When did Imerys start serving the lithium-ion battery market, and what triggered the development? 

The development of lithium-ion in batteries started in the 1990s, and a clear adoption of graphite within these products followed soon after – We saw that as a great opportunity and developed the first solutions to support this market from the very beginning.

Asia has been leading the bandwagon for lithium-ion battery production – in fact, I would estimate that around 90% of lithium-ion battery production is linked to battery-makers within the region – so we began supplying our products to such companies. 

How is Imerys evolving with the growth in the lithium-ion market?

We acquired Nippon Power Graphite (NPG), a Japanese CVD coating technology company which gave us ownership of NPG’s unique patented technology for the production. Since NPG’s technology is a more environmentally friendly production process, this technology has the potential to give us competitive advantages if compared to alternative traditional coating technologies. 

In 2019, we inaugurated a new central lab for Graphite & Carbon in Bironico, in Switzerland. This state-of-the-art lab is fitted with the most advanced investigation technologies, serving lithium-ion batteries, alkaline batteries, polymers as well as many other applications. 

We dedicate considerable efforts and resources into the continuous improvement of our production plants and processes. Efforts that enhance our reliability as a partner but also improve our CSR approach. At our site in Bodio, Switzerland for example a new SO2 treatment plant has been built which is fully operational since 2019. 

There is a lot going on and they’re all exciting endeavours, but they require a lot of focus while keeping our customers at the centre of our business activities. 

What are Imerys' plans for the future to support innovation and new trends in lithium-ion battery technologies? 

In 2018, we reset the strategy to put the customers at the centre of the focus of our inventions and thinking. We’re focusing right now on developing new grades and new solutions together with our customers, to fully meet their requirements. Our customers are increasingly interested in the safety of their batteries and request high quality and as well purity.

The world of lithium-ion battery technology is developing rapidly– faster charging, longer range and charging at lower temperatures are all challenging areas of interest  and our products have been and will be developed further to cater to these needs. 

What efforts are you making to be sustainable in your business and your initiatives? 

Our products are enabling products for better and sustainable solutions. Without graphite or carbon black, for example, no Lithium-ion battery for electric vehicles could work. Hence our products have a positive contribution to sustainability and transformation.

But we are as well striving everyday to get more out of our plants with less input. We try to avoid waste and consume less raw materials and energy where possible, in order to be more efficient.

We’re also onboarding solar power contributions, putting into place plans for a solar power plant to serve our central Lab in Bironico, Switzerland.

In addition to this, we have a project under development tailored to build an energy recovery plant in Willebroek, Belgium, which will enable us to use energy from our own production and convert it into electrical energy that we can then charge to the grid. This will also help us to improve our CO2 footprint further.

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