Solid-State EV Battery Plot Thickens As GM Inks Deal with POSCO

As another sign that GM has a solid-state EV battery up its sleeve, the company joined last week the Korean company POSCO Chemical to build a new battery factory in the United States. The new plant will produce material for GM’s highly acclaimed Ultium energy storage platform, which is not a solid-state battery. Nevertheless, the new partnership indicates that GM is approaching a solid state of mind.

Why everyone is talking about a solid-state EV battery

Lithium-ion technology has set a high bar for EV battery performance, but automotive stakeholders have been hot on the trail of solid-state batteries, allowing for lower cost and higher performance. Lighter weight, faster charging times and a more sustainable supply chain are also considerations.

As the name suggests, a solid-state EV battery has a solid electrolyte, not a liquid or gel as in a conventional lithium-ion battery. Solid-state technology has been wandering around the R&D nozzle for years, prompting skeptics to postulate that lithium-ion technology will last forever.

There are arguments for the continued dominance of lithium-ion technology if it continues to improve and costs continue to fall. That’s a big “if,” according to a study that warns against prematurely maintaining a chemistry at the expense of others.

Automotive industry stakeholders appear to have caught the warning. Recent months have seen an increase in investment in solid state technology from leading automakers, including Mercedes-Benz, Stellantis, BMW and Ford.

GM has a solid-state EV battery in its pocket

GM has gone to great lengths to promote its new Ultium lithium-ion battery platform, but it also appears to be on guard against premature lock-in.

Last spring, the company planted its stake solidly in the new solid-state EV battery field when it announced a joint deal with lithium metal company SES (formerly Solid Energy Systems).

It is the latest in a series of lithium-metal partnerships that GM has entered into in recent years. GM also holds nearly 100 patents (49 approved and 45 pending) of its own in the field of lithium-metal technology, and it was an early investor in SES. The new SES partnership is expected to provide a pre-production version of the new lithium-metal EV battery in 2023.

What’s the deal with GM & POSCO?

That finally brings us to the GM-POSCO Chemical EV battery deal.

The new joint venture will connect the two companies to build a new EV battery factory in North America at a location to be determined.

The new plant will process CAM (cathode active material) for GM’s Ultium new battery plants in Lordtown, Ohio and Spring Hill, Tennessee, where LG Energy Solution is a partner.

The CAM angle is the one you need to see. According to GM, the cathode material accounts for about 40% of the price of a battery cell. It has a huge impact on the overall cost of an electric vehicle.

In the announcement, GM also issued a reminder that the first generation of the Ultium platform aims to deliver an EV battery cell that costs 40% less than the one used in their Chevy Bolt electric car.

It’s just to start with. GM also predicts that the second-generation Ultium battery will aim to achieve “twice the energy density at 60% lower cost.”

If all goes according to plan, the non-binding agreement signed last week will migrate to concrete form “soon”, according to GM.

Leading steelmaker dives into the EV battery field

Hmmmm … double the energy density at 60% lower cost sounds a lot like solid state technology is on the way.

SES mashup is one big clue. The other is GM’s new relationship with POSCO Chemical, which describes itself as a manufacturer of nickel-rich cathode materials and low-expansion anode materials, among other technologies.

Among these other technologies are materials for solid-state EV batteries. As noted last year by our friends at Aju Business Daily, POSCO Chemical pursues materials for solid-state energy storage technology.

Interesting! To make things even more interesting, POSCO Chemical’s parent company is the leading steel producer POSCO, which last year did a great deal of business diving into the materials side of the electric car battery market. POSCO reckons that it can utilize its experience and position in the global metal supply chain to occupy the pole position in the EV battery race, where POSCO Chemical leads.

The Solid State Revolution is (almost) here

Despite all the activity around solid-state batteries, it is far too early to erase the lithium-ion technology from the card.

For example, the charging time of lithium-ion batteries is expected to continue to improve. A project in that direction is being pursued by the company Koura, which has just won a $ 3.1 million grant from the US Department of Energy to develop new fluorine-containing electrolytes for lithium-ion EV batteries.

Koura is best known for its share of the fluoride product market. Prior to securing the award, it acquired the energy storage incubator Silatronix, which was launched in 2007 with support from both the DOE and the Office of Naval Research.

Putting two and two together, Koura notes that fluoride is used in electrolytes, additives, binders and other materials.

“Koura is actively developing fluorine-containing materials for use in current and next-generation Li-ion batteries,” the company notes, adding that its “unique integrated supply chain and process research and development capabilities allow us to efficiently develop and manufacture unique battery products.”

“Fluoride additives and co-solvents enable increased energy per battery mass while ensuring safety. The unique properties of fluorinated materials make them uniquely suitable for use in high-energy battery environments and provide stability in all modes of operation,” continues Koura.

Koura’s energy storage project will also receive help from the Ministry of Energy’s Argonne National Lab, which is a big fan of fluorinated electrolytes for EV batteries.

Another declaration of confidence in lithium-ion batteries comes from POSCO. As a member of the World Steel Association, POSCO is one of the leading steelmakers behind the fully autonomous Steel E-Motive electric car concept, which has just been introduced by the WSA’s WorldAutoSteel division.

The idea behind Steel E-Motive is to ensure that the steel industry keeps its hand on the electricity market, even if the use of steel in car production falls. The idea is to implement technology at hand or close to the market to produce a flat-bottomed passenger vehicle aimed at the fleet and carpool market, where 2030 is the target date for high-volume mass production.

Although E-Motive could accommodate a solid-state battery by 2030, for here and now WorldAutoSteel seems to be targeting the current state of lithium-ion technology. If you have any ideas for that, please drop us a note in the comment thread.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: GMC The Hummer electric car from GM will use the new Ultium EV battery (screen shot with permission from GMC).

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