Johnson Matthey battery investment runs out of power

The opening of Johnson Matthey's Battery Technology Centre at Milton Park in July
Johnson Matthey Battery Technology Centre, Milton Park

In a surprise move, Johnson Matthey, a global leader in sustainable technologies and which makes catalytic converters to reduce car exhaust fumes, is stopping its investment in battery materials and intends to put this part of its business up for sale.

In a statement today, the company – which has been working to commercialise its range of high nickel cathode materials, principally for the automotive industry, said: “Following a detailed review and ahead of reaching a number of critical investment milestones, we have concluded that the potential returns from our Battery Materials business will not be adequate to justify further investment.

“Whilst demand for battery materials is accelerating, so is competition from alternative technologies and other manufacturers. Consequently this is rapidly turning into a high volume, commoditised market.”

“In recent months, as JM has been exploring strategic partnerships, it has also become clear that our capital intensity is too high compared with other more established large scale, low cost producers.”

The company, which set up its battery division in 2012,  had hoped that investing in battery technology for electric vehicles could replace its reliance on catalytic converters.

Only last August, the company announced it was part of a consortium of seven UK organisations which had signed a memorandum of understanding to combine ambitions to develop world-leading prototype solid-state battery technology, targeting automotive applications.

The consortium also consisted of Faraday Institution, Britishvolt, Oxford University, UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, Emerson & Renwick and University of Warwick.

And the month before the company opened a Battery Technology Centre at Milton Park, for the commercialisation of eLNO, its next generation, ultra-high energy density low cobalt cathode battery material.

The official opening was performed by the Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Robert MacLeod, Chief Executive said: “While the testing of our eLNO battery materials with customers is going well, the marketplace is rapidly evolving with increasing commoditisation and lower returns. We have concluded that we will not achieve the returns necessary to justify further investment.

“This decision will allow us to accelerate our investment and focus on more attractive growth areas, especially where we have leadership positions such as in hydrogen technologies, circularity and the decarbonisation of the chemicals value chain.”

Johnson Matthey employs hundreds of highly skilled battery technology staff at its sites in Oxfordshire. Its Swindon site is dedicated to making hydrogen fuel cells.

 

The company has also announced that Robert MacLeod will retire as Chief Executive next MArch, but will stay on to support the transition process until the Company’s Annual General Meeting on 21st July 2022 when he will then retire from JM.

Liam Condon, who will join JM as Chief Executive on 1st March 2022, is currently a Member of the Board of Management of Bayer AG and President of the Crop Science Division, a role he has held for nine years. Bayer Crop Science is the global leader in agricultural innovation and sustainability with circa €20 billion revenue. He has served in senior roles at the former Schering AG and then Bayer HealthCare.

Johnson Matthey will announce its first half results on 24th November, which are in-line with market expectations, however it said its trading outlook for the full year ending 31st March 2022, assuming current precious metal prices and foreign exchange rates, is towards the lower end of market expectations. “This is primarily due to the wide-spread supply chain shortages affecting the automotive industry and the consequential impact on precious metals prices, together with acute labour shortages in the US that are adversely impacting our Health business, which is subject to strategic review.”