Solvay Expands French Rare Earths Site

20.09.2022 - Solvay has announced plans to expand its rare earths operations in La Rochelle, France, in order to enter the permanent magnets sector in Europe and serve customers in the fast-growing electric vehicle, wind power and electronics markets.

“Rare earths are essential to ensure the green energy transition. Our investments in the magnets’ value chain will help Europe power its new economy with more autonomous and sustainable solutions for electric mobility, clean energy generation and sensitive electronics applications,” said CEO Ilham Kadri.

Currently most advanced magnets are imported from overseas and Solvay wants to create what it terms “a powerful rare earths hub in Europe” in the years ahead.

The project will expand and upgrade an existing unit in order to add the production of separated rare earth oxides, which are essential components used in the traction motors of electric vehicles, the generation motors of wind turbines and many other electronic applications. At present, the La Rochelle plant serves the automotive emissions control and semiconductor markets.

Solvay added that it will pursue alliances with other global champions in this field, noting that it is already actively participating in European consortia to secure partnerships and funding.

Separately, the Belgian company has opened a pilot research unit at La Rochelle for solid state batteries. The facility will enable Solvay to scale up development of advanced inorganic materials for solid electrolytes, which are a key component of the next generation of batteries for the automotive industry.

It will assess the industrial feasibility of the materials used in the manufacturing process of solid state – or generation 4 – batteries, which are expected to replace lithium-ion batteries in the coming years, offering better safety and performance, as well as lowering the total cost of ownership.

"The world has never needed so many batteries, powering today’s and tomorrow’s sustainable cities, communities and technologies. We are contributing to this underlying trend by focusing our efforts on innovation that will bring new, safer and more efficient solutions to our customers – meeting the automotive industry’s rising demand for electric vehicles,” Kadri said. “With more than 20 years of expertise, Solvay is the front-runner in Europe for this new technology and we’ll continue to work on innovative and disruptive technologies for the next generations of battery technologies.”

The Nouvelle Aquitaine region and the French state have supported Solvay on the project as part of a wider EU package to boost battery innovation in Europe. Under the European Commission’s Important Projects of Common European Interest program, Solvay has been approved to receive “substantial” grants over the coming years from participating member states, backed by its own investments, to accelerate electric vehicle battery innovation in the European Union.

Author: Elaine Burridge, Freelance Journalist