General Motors has led a 139 million US dollar investment round by solid-state battery specialist SolidEnergy Systems (SES). This follows a development agreement the US car company had signed in March with SES.
SES is a Singapore-based spin-off of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In addition to General Motors, existing investors SK, Temasek, Applied Ventures LLC, Shanghai Auto and Vertex are among the backers of the just-closed funding round. The developer says it will use the new funding to accelerate technology development and commercialisation of its lithium metal-based solid-state batteries.
SES had announced a lithium metal battery technology in 2016 in which the anode is replaced by an extremely thin lithium foil. This could significantly increase the energy density to up to 500 Wh/kg. General Motors is very interested in the technology, as the company is planning the next generation of its Ultium batteries with a lithium metal anode, i.e. as a solid-state battery. GM is thus flirting with the same path as the Volkswagen Group, which has also brought a specialist for solid-state batteries on board with QuantumScape. The same pattern can be seen with Ford and the tech company SolidPower (together with Hyundai and BMW).
SES describes GM’s investment as the “culmination of nearly six years of work with the big automaker”. The collaboration dates back to 2015. As part of a recently agreed development agreement, GM and SES plan to build a prototype production line for the cells in Woburn, Massachusetts by 2023. By the middle of the decade, the partners want to reduce costs by up to 60 per cent compared to the cells used in the current Chevrolet Bolt and Bolt EUV.
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Specifically, GM aims to make the next-generation Ultium a “lithium metal battery with a protected anode” that offers “a combination of affordability, high performance and energy density”. SES’s technology is said to be key to this. For the current generation of Ultium cells, GM is known to be working with LG Energy Systems. As part of their joint venture Ultium Cells, GM and LG are already building a battery cell plant in Ohio, which is expected to be completed in 2022. In early March, GM also confirmed reports that it was planning a second battery cell plant in the US. Meanwhile, LG has also given some key points on this.
“GM has been rapidly driving down battery cell costs and improving energy density, and our work with SES technology has incredible potential to deliver even better EV performance for customers who want more range at a lower cost,” expressed Matt Tsien, GM executive vice president and CTO. “This investment by GM and others will allow SES to accelerate their work and scale up their business.”
For its part, GM says it already has development expertise and numerous data series in the area of solid-state batteries: The first prototype cells are said to have already reeled off 150,000 simulated test miles in the research and development lab at GM’s Global Technical Center in Warren, Michigan.
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