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GM announces new lithium-ion EV battery venture while teasing solid-state technology (photo credit: GMC Hummer EV screenshot courtesy of GM).

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

GM sharpens its lithium-ion EV battery knives with POSCO Chemical, while also taking a stab at up-and-coming solid-state technology.

In yet another sign that GM has a solid-state EV battery up its sleeve, last week the company hooked up with the Korean firm POSCO Chemical to build a new battery factory in the US. The new factory will produce material for GM’s much-heralded Ultium energy storage platform, which is not a solid-state battery. Nevertheless, the new partnership indicates that GM is edging closer to a solid state of mind.

Why Is Everybody Talking About A Solid-State EV Battery

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

As the name indicates, a solid-state EV battery sports a solid electrolyte, not a liquid or gel as in a conventional lithium-ion battery. Solid-state technology has been wandering around in the R&D doldrums for years, leading skeptics to postulate that lithium-ion technology will hold sway forever.

There is a case to be made for the continued dominance of lithium-ion technology, if it continues to improve and costs continue to drop. That’s a big “if,” according to one study that warns of prematurely latching on to one chemistry at the expense of others.

Auto industry stakeholders appear to have caught the warning. Recent months have seen a surge of investment in solid state technology by leading automakers, including Mercedes-Benz, Stellantis, BMW, and Ford.

GM Has A Solid-State EV Battery In Its Pocket

GM has gone all-out to promote its new Ultium lithium-ion battery platform, but it, too, appears to be wary of premature lock-in.

Last spring the company planted its stake firmly in the emerging solid-state EV battery field when it announced a joint agreement with the lithium-metal firm SES (formerly Solid Energy Systems).

That’s the latest in a series of lithium-metal partnerships GM has struck up in recent years. GM also holds almost 100 patents (49 granted and 45 pending) of its own in lithium-metal technology and it was an early investor in SES. The new SES partnership is expected to yield a pre-production version of the new lithium-metal EV battery by 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 hook the two companies up to build a new EV battery factory in North America, at a location to be determined.

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

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

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

That’s just for starters. GM also anticipates that the second generation Ultium battery aims 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 into concrete form “soon,” according to GM.

Leading Steelmaker Dives Into EV Battery Field

Hmmmm…twice the energy density at 60% lower cost sounds an awful lot like-solid state technology is in the works.

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

Among those other technologies are materials for solid-state EV batteries. As noted last year by our friends over at Aju Business Daily, POSCO Chemical is pursuing 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 made a big deal last year about diving into the materials side of the EV battery market. POSCO figures it can leverage its experience and position in the global metals supply chain to take the pole position in the EV battery race, with POSCO Chemical leading the charge.

The Solid-State Revolution Is (Almost) Here

Despite all the activity around solid-state batteries, it’s way too early to wipe lithium-ion technology off the map.

For example, the charging time for lithium-ion batteries is expected to keep improving. One project along those lines is being pursued by the firm Koura, which just won a $3.1 million grant from the US Department of Energy to develop new flourinated electrolytes for lithium-ion EV batteries.

Koura is best known for its stake in the fluoroproduct market. In advance of securing the award it acquired the energy storage incubator Silatronix, which launched in 2007 with the support of both DOE and the Office of Naval Research.

Putting two and two together, Koura notes that fluorine 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 allows us to efficiently develop and manufacture unique battery products.”

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

Koura’s energy storage project will also get an assist from the Energy Department’s Argonne National Lab, which is a big fan of fluorinated electrolytes for EV batteries.

Another vote 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 vehicle concept., which has just been introduced by WSA’s WorldAutoSteel division.

The idea behind the Steel E-Motive is to ensure that the steel industry keeps its hand in the EV market, even as the use of steel in car manufacturing declines. The idea is to deploy at-hand or near-to-market technology to produce a walk-in, flat-bottomed passenger vehicle aimed at the fleet and ride-sharing market, with 2030 being the target date for high volume mass production.

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

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: The GMC Hummer electric vehicle from GM will use the new Ultium EV battery (screenshot courtesy of GMC).

 
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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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