Europe’s largest graphite materials producer,
Imerys Graphite & Carbon, has doubled production capacity
of conductive carbon black at its facility in Willebroek,
Belgium, following a significant investment over 12
A new production line has now been successfully
put into operation which, according to Hugues Jacquemin, vice
president and general manager of Imerys Graphite &
Carbon, enables the company to service growing demand for lithium-ion (Li-ion)
batteries and polymers.
"Demand has increased significantly over the past
few years and in order to meet that demand, we’ve
had to double our capacity at Willebroek," Jacquemin told
IM at the plant opening.
Jacquemin explained that the expansion has taken
place over one year and has involved a "significant investment
in excess of €20m ($25m*)".
The Willebroek facility is not very labour
intensive, however the company has added 14 more staff
positions following the expansion.
Carbon black is an essential component of Li-ion
batteries but is also used in plastics and rubber applications.
It is used to prevent electrical discharge, to preserve the
activity of electronic components, to allow further treatment
and to transport electricity safely.
Imerys has further announced that it has been
selected by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and
Industry for the 2014 Subsidy Program.
As part of the programme, Imerys will be part of
a project to establish
a research and development centre specialised in
environmentally frien-dly, high performing specialty carbons
applications, including rechargeable batteries, supercapacitors
and fuel cells.
Imerys Graphite & Carbon, which is a
subsidiary of world-leading French industrial minerals group,
Imerys SA, dedicates 34% of its business in terms of Euros to
the global energy storage market.
This includes all different types of batteries,
such as alkaline batteries, Li-ion batteries and lead acid
batteries, Jacquemin told IM, adding that the
rest of the business is subdivided between plastics,
engineering materials, refractories and hot metal
"In terms of the percentage that will go towards
the battery market, it’s difficult to say, as
things evolve over time. I would say that a significant part of
the capacity is going to the Li-ion battery market and the rest
is going to the plastics market," Jacquemin explained.
In terms of geographical demand, Imerys Graphite
& Carbon’s business is fairly balanced between
three regions: Americas, Europe and Asia.
"In terms of the plastics business, this is
global. In terms of the Li-ion market, which is one of the
growth areas we are servicing out of Willebroek,
that’s mostly in Asia, as most of the battery
cells for lithium-ion batteries are manufactured in Asia,"
Jacquemin told IM.
The Willebroek facility extension is part of the
new capacities launched by Imerys at the group level, which
contributed all together €55m to its revenue growth in the
nine first months of 2014.
This plant expansion is the latest in a string of
investments Imerys has made into new energy markets in recent
years. The company reported in its Q3 2014 results that the
Energy Solutions and Specialities business group generated
revenue of €963m on 9 months, up 2.4% year-on-year (+
10.4% like for like).
Highlighting its interest in the high pressure,
high temperature hydraulic fracturing market, in April 2013
Imerys purchased Georgia, US-based ceramic proppant
manufacturer, PyraMax Ceramics LLC, for a consideration of
The plant will be used to meet the needs of the
growing US oil and natural gas industry.
"The interest in non-conventional deposits is
opening up global prospects for the oilfield minerals market,
which was already growing in the US. By investing in this new
industrial complex, Imerys has reached a significant step in
the implementation of its internal growth strategy by 2016,"
Gilles Michel, Imerys CEO, said at the time.
More recently, Imerys bought Greece-based
bentonite producer, S&B, for a maximum purchase price of
€558m, further solidifying the company’s
presence in the global industrial minerals market.
Imerys earlier this year lost out on
a bidding war to acquire US bentonite producer,
AMCOL, to rival Minerals Technologies Inc., but would
be drawn on whether it viewed the S&B
purchase as an alternative
route to expand into the bentonite market.
The deal remains subject to regulatory approval,
but an Imerys spokesperson confirmed to IM
that the company expects the deal be concluded at the end of
the first quarter of 2015.
Reinforced commitment to Lac des Iles
During the 4th Industrial Minerals
Graphite and Graphene Conference, held in Berlin, Germany,
(see p9-10). Imerys reinforced its commitment to
keeping its Lac des Iles flake graphite mine in Quebec, Canada,
in production, despite rumours that the project is earmarked
for closure in the next few years.
Brushing off suggestions that the deposit - which
is one of only two active graphite mines in Canada - is close
to exhaustion, Fabrizio Corti, vice president sales and
business development for Imerys Graphite and Carbon, said that
the company had no plans to shut the Quebec site.
"We recently opened pit number six and next year
we are planning to open pit number two," he told delegates.
He said that there had been lots of rumours about
Imerys’ plans for the mine, but confirmed to
IM that Lac des Iles has an indefinite
"We have invested in this mine because we believe
in it," he said.
*Converted December 2014