Belgian materials technology company Umicore committed July 13 to spending about $1.5 billion to build an integrated manufacturing plant for cathode and precursor battery materials outside Kingston, Ont.
The investment will add another link to Canada’s electric vehicle battery supply chain and catapult Eastern Ontario into a sector long dominated by automotive nerve centres in the southwestern part of the province and nearby states.
On hand for the announcement at Queen’s University in Kingston, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Umicore investment is “another major step forward” in making Canada a global leader in EV production.
“This plant will supply materials for a million electric vehicles a year. Canada is not just going to be a global player in EVs, with this and other announcements that we’ve made, we demonstrate that we get to be global leaders in electric vehicles,” he said at a press conference.
The plant in nearby Loyalist Township will cover two of the key steps required to prepare metals for use in lithium-ion battery cells. It will blend inputs such as lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese into precursor cathode active materials (PCAM), before converting the precursor to battery-ready cathode active materials (CAM).
FIRST OF ITS KIND
The company claims the planned facility is the first-of-its-kind in North America to combine the PCAM and CAM processes on an industrial scale. The Brussels-based materials company has also committed to running the sprawling plant solely on renewable energy. Details on how it will draw solely renewable power from Ontario’s predominantly clean electricity grid were not immediately available.
Construction at the 350-acre (140-hectare) site in Loyalist — located on the Highway 401 corridor just west of Kingston and roughly midway between Toronto and Montreal — is scheduled to start next year. The plant is expected to create 1,000 jobs during construction and “several hundred” once it reaches operations.
Once ramped up to full capacity, the plant will be capable of producing CAM for up to one million EV batteries per year. Current projections from AutoForecast Solutions show EV production climbing to about five million vehicles per year by the end of the decade, meaning the Umicore plant could supply cathode material for as many as 20 per cent of the EVs built in Canada, the United States and Mexico by 2029.
CAM is used for a battery’s positive electrode, which typically accounts for about half of an EV battery cell’s cost. A cathode is combined with a negative anode, separator and electrolyte to form a complete battery cell. Cells are then grouped into modules and packs, and a typical EV battery consists of thousands of individual cells.
Umicore CEO Mathias Miedreich said putting down roots in Canada will complete the rollout of the company’s EV battery supply chain, which spans three continents.
“Investing in Canada is for us the best equation to drive our North American business forward. It’s the resource availability, it’s the clean energy and … it’s the availability of critical talent.”
The big-ticket announcement in Loyalist is the latest in a string of automotive supply chain investments in Canada.
General Motors, Honda and Stellantis committed billions to retooling southwestern Ontario assembly plants for hybrid or battery-electric vehicles this spring, while a joint venture between battery firm LG Energy Solution and Stellantis announced in March plans to build a roughly $5 billion battery cell plant in Windsor, Ont. The Canadian auto investment tally, which totals more than $13 billion, also includes a pair of CAM plants in Bécancour, Que. planned by German chemical firm BASF and a joint venture between South Korea’s Posco Chemical and GM.
Vic Fedeli, Ontario’s minister of economic development, job creation and trade, said the latest investment will “further connect” Northern Ontario’s mining sector to the battery value chain developing in the southern part of the province.
“When you think of that whole supply chain from critical mineral right through to the finished vehicle coming off an assembly line, this is like dropping the final piece of the puzzle right in.”
The extent of government support for the project was not immediately available, but the new battery materials plant received funding from both the federal and Ontario governments. Umicore’s Miedreich thanked the two levels of government for “their readiness to co-fund” the industrial complex.
Citing competitive concerns, Fedeli told Automotive News Canada the province was not yet disclosing the value of its investment.
"We're dealing with a lot of worldwide prospects right at this moment, again some big deals that we hope to be successful with ... We just want to play our cards close to the vest so we can get the best individual deals from each and every company, the best deal for the taxpayer"
The battery materials plant in Loyalist’s Taylor Kidd Industrial Park is scheduled to begin operations by the end of 2025.