Umicore fuel cell catalysts

Regional website Belgium

Around the world, the way energy is managed is changing, moving away from fossil fuels and towards more sustainable energy solutions, including for cleaner mobility. Umicore provides clean-tech solutions for all vehicle types including  cathode materials used in lithium-ion batteries for electromobility and electro-catalysts for fuel cell vehicles.

A fuel cell is like a battery in that it generates electricity from an electrochemical reaction, and is built with an anode and a cathode.  However, fuel cells do not run down or need recharging. The main difference between a battery and fuel cell is that a battery stores energy, while a fuel cell generates energy. A fuel cell takes an energy source (the “fuel”), such as hydrogen, and an oxidizing agent, oxygen from air, and through its reaction converts it into electricity . In doing so, as long as air and fuel are supplied, a fuel cell can run indefinitely. The assembly of fuel cell components is referred to as a stack, which is the power generation unit of a fuel cell system. Typically batteries and fuel cells can be found working together, where  a battery will store the electricity a fuel cell is generating and the total energy output will be the combined output from the two energy sources. At Umicore, our tailor made PEM fuel cell catalysts provide superior performance to accelerate the development of fuel cells, boasting longer ranges, shorter refueling times and higher energy density.

In the move towards cleaner mobility, and with the technology maturity now demonstrated, fuel cell drivetrains are gaining momentum in the trend towards electrified vehicles. Since 2019, Umicore has recorded strong growth in the demand of fuel cell catalysts used in the transportation segment. To support the rapid growth of our automotive customers we have created a new and promising business unit for fuel cell and stationary catalysts and are ready to ramp up our production.   

With 30 years of experience developing Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell catalysts, covering both anode and cathode electrode applications, Umicore’s competitive products are key components of commercial stack platforms found on the road today. We are present in most of the development platforms of the biggest OEMs, and our R&D centers and industrial production activities both in Germany and South Korea are well placed to globally serve our automotive customers. We expanded our production capacity in South Korea, close to Umicore’s technology development center near Seoul, to support the growth of Hyundai Motors Group and we will as well support our other automotive customers allowing further expansion to cover future growing demand.

Umicore’s fuel cell material solutions are also applicable for water electrolysis, the cleanest production of low-carbon hydrogen. Looking ahead, we share the vision that clean hydrogen has a key role to play in decarbonizing the energy, mobility and industry systems. Scaling up of hydrogen technologies is direly needed to achieve competitiveness across many applications and reach its full deployment potential by 2050. Hydrogen technologies are therefore crucial to climate change mitigation while delivering on economic value creation and generating massive job opportunities.

Umicore also closes the loop for fuel cells, recycling end-of-life and production waste in our Precious Metals Refining operations, a world market leader in eco-efficient recycling of complex waste streams containing precious and other non-ferrous metals. At Umicore, after recovering precious metals, we are able to convert these scarce metals back into advanced materials for new fuel cell technology.

Today, fuel cell vehicles are already circulating on roads all over the globe though in limited numbers. Market deployment of fuel cell vehicles will intensify provided that a refueling infrastructure is sufficiently developed. Electric buses and energy demanding heavy duty applications such as trucks will strongly rely on fuel cell technology. On the road to 2050, fuel cell electric vehicles will dominate long range and medium-high duty applications.

Fuel cells have a clear role to play in the engine and energy mix providing one of the various technologies required towards zero emissions. They provide the best of both worlds by combining the environmental advantages of battery drivetrains with the driving range and refueling time of internal combustion engines. Therefore, as a complementary technology, Umicore’s fuel cell catalysts are clearly part of our unique technology portfolio offering the full spectrum of clean mobility materials.