Leave it to General Motors CEO Mary Barra to stir the EV pot with a new, history-making $7 billion investment to be shared among four different factories, two of which will be dedicated to electric vehicles and batteries. However, the cars that roll off the assembly line are only part of the story. Hidden deep within the big-dollar announcement is a supply chain backstory that drops yet another hint about the company’s plans for a solid-state EV battery future.
Make That $35 Billion For EVs (& Other Cars)
Actually, $7 billion is just the tip of a multi-billion series of investments planned by GM in the coming years. Last December, Barra reminded everybody that the company intends to pump a total of $35 billion into its operations by 2030.
GM still has a long way to go towards full electrification, and not all of the greenbacks will go towards building mobile energy storage devices. Currently, the target for GM factories in China and North America is only 50% EV production by 2030.
That could turn out to be a low estimate. Regardless of how many cars GM expects to produce by 2030, it’s a good bet that not too many car buyers will be clamoring for gasmobiles by then, considering that the cost of EV ownership is sinking like a stone, the EV charging network is taking off like a rocket, and low cost renewable energy is pushing fossil power off the stage.
For the record, EV production does take the lion’s share of the new $7 billion investment. In a press release dated January 25, GM lavishes many paragraphs on its plans for producing new EVs and EV batteries, before noting that two of its assembly plants in the Lansing, Michigan area will split a total of just $510 million for something that it calls “near-term” vehicles, including new iterations of the Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave.
What’s All This About The Solid-State EV Battery Supply Chain?
You have to scroll all the way down past the $510 million split for gasmobiles to get to the real juicy bit, which is the supply chain news.
“In addition to strategically adding battery cell and electric vehicle assembly capacity, GM is working to build a new supply chain via strategic supplier agreements for batteries and EV components, one that is expected to be scalable, more resilient, more sustainable and more North American-focused,” GM explains.
Considering all the excitement over new solid-state EV battery technology nowadays, it’s not a surprise to see POSCO making the cut as one of six strategic suppliers tapped by GM. The company is in the thick of the solid-state race, and it already announced an agreement with GM last month to build a new EV battery factory in the US.
For the record, the new factory is aimed at GM’s new Ultium EV battery platform. However, in a GM press release from last December, “PSOCO Chemical CEO Kyungzoon Min emphasized that “we will innovate battery materials and contribute to accelerate the adoption of EVs based on our world-class product development, mass production capacity, and raw materials competitiveness.”
GM’s Big EV Battery Supply Chain-A-Palooza
GM seems to have all the bases covered in the supply chain venture, which has been popping up in bits and pieces over the past few months. The $7 billion announcement provided the company with an opportunity to run down all six agreements in one place.
The firm MP Materials is tasked with providing US-sourced and manufactured rare earth materials, alloy, and finished neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) magnets for electric motors. GM plans to deploy the motors in stages beginning next year, in more than a dozen models including the GMC HUMMER EV, the Cadillac LYRIQ, and the Chevrolet Silverado EV.
In support of that effort, the magnetics company Vacuumschmelze (VAC for short) will build a new manufacturing plant to produce the new magnets, at a location to be determined. As described by GM, VAC is “a leading global producer of advanced magnetic materials and the largest producer of permanent magnets in the Western Hemisphere with nearly 100 years of experience.”
Rounding out the magnet area is GE Renewable Energy, which will provide supply chain improvements for rare earth materials and magnets, as well as copper and steel for EVs. The partnership is also expected to benefit GE’s renewable energy business.
“The initial focus of the collaboration will be on creating a North America- and Europe-based supply chain of vertically integrated magnet manufacturing that both companies will use in the future,” GM explains.
Nailing Down The EV Supply Chain Of The Future
GM also has the semiconductor side in hand, through the company Wolfspeed.
“Wolfspeed’s silicon carbide devices will enable GM to install more efficient EV propulsion systems that will extend the range of its rapidly expanding EV portfolio,” says GM, adding that “Silicon carbide enables greater system efficiencies that result in longer EV range while lowering weight and conserving space.”
Of course, the all important area of lithium supply is also front and center. The sixth supply chain partner listed by GM is Controlled Thermal Resources, a company that crossed the CleanTechnica radar last month on account of its low-impact technology for extracting lithium from geothermal brine.
“Extracting lithium from geothermal brine is not exactly a mystery. The problem is doing it in a way that makes economic sense, keeping in mind that the mining and evaporation practices frowned upon by the Energy Department are relatively inexpensive,” we observed.
Controlled Thermal Resources launched Stage One of its “Hell’s Kitchen Lithium and Power” project in California last year, billing it as the “world’s first, fully integrated, new geothermal-lithium facility to commence construction,” so it looks like GM has been eyeballing that opportunity for a while.
Next Steps For The Solid-State EV Battery
Despite all the hoopla, solid-state EV battery technology has yet to prove itself on the commercial stage. Still, solid-state innovators are attracting the big bucks from automakers and other investors. That includes Ford and BMW as well as Stellantis and Mercedes-Benz, among others.
In the latest development on that score, Dongfeng Motor Company just rolled out 50 demonstration cars sporting solid-state EV battery technology, though their iteration is part solid, part liquid.
The stationary energy storage field is also beginning to dip a toe in the solid-state waters, so stay tuned for more on that.
As for POSCO, they have been talking up solid-state EV battery technology since 2018, when they published a think-piece noting that “solid-state lithium-ion batteries are a feasible solution.”
“These super-capacity batteries replace traditional semi-liquid electrolytes with solid electrolytes that allow for faster charging times (about 7 minutes) and are not susceptible to explosion on impact as liquid-state electrolytes are…Plus, they are far lighter and take up less space in an EV,” POSCO explained.
It took a few years for the mic to drop, didn’t it? Better late than never, as they say.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: GM has a long history in the electric vehicle field, as demonstrated by the 1966 Electrovair II (photo courtesy of GM Heritage Center).
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