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Johnson Matthey

A global leader in sustainable technologies

Staying at the top of the tech business for 20 minutes is tough. Johnson Matthey have been up there for 200 years.

Founded in London in 1817 as an assayer (testing the purity of precious metals and coinage), the company has been at the forefront of the provision of high-tech materials ever since.

This speciality chemicals company describes itself as a global leader in sustainable technologies, and with good reason. In the 1970s, the company invented the first catalytic convertor, and today one in three cars have a Matthey-made convertor on board, preventing around 20 million tonnes of pollutants from entering the atmosphere every year.

Now, with Western governments looking to phase out diesel and petrol cars, this old dog has a new trick. Alongside its main business areas of clean air, efficient natural resources and health, its focus is intensifying on battery materials. In 2018 it announced it had developed a new battery material that could radically improve the performance of electric vehicles.

The company has set aside £200m to commercialise enhanced lithium nickel oxide, which it says would improve the efficiency of the Tesla Model S by 13 per cent and other vehicles by up to a third.

The company is also driving the 3-D printing revolution and last year opened a new ceramic additive manufacturing laboratory in Hertfordshire, UK.

Oh, and it provides leading cancer drugs, Cisplatin and Carboplatin.

Atypical of British innovation, Johnson Matthey is very good at commercialising its discoveries, as these case studies attest.

For instance, the company’s scientists in Scotland accidentally discovered the most bitter substance known to man. A lesser company might have shelved it as a curio. They called it Bitrex and use it to eradicate accidental poisoning. It is now added to a wide variety of potentially dangerous household products and is also used in denaturing industrial alcohol, making anyone consuming it to spit it out instantly. A thimbleful of Bitrex can be tasted if added to an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

JM is also a leader in biocatalysis (engineering enzymes to do useful things), high-tech platinum manufacturing and recycling, and introducing ‘continuous flow chemistry’ to increase the efficiency and efficacy of the pharmaceutical industry.

The company is worth around £8bn, with sales of £3.5bn sales and employing around 12,000 people worldwide.

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