SK Inc., the holding company of SK Group, has invested an additional US$35.9 million (40 billion won) in SES (formerly SolidEnergy Systems), a developer of next-generation lithium metal batteries (earlier post). With this second investment, following the original 30-billion won (US$26.7 million) investment in 2018, SK now is the third-largest shareholder of the advanced battery company, following the CEO of Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek and founder Qichao Hu.
SK Corp. has been investing in the explosively growing electric vehicle material business, including next-generation power semiconductors; the company’s strategy is to leap forward as a Game Changer in the market.
SES, which started in 2012 as an MIT research lab startup, is headquartered in Singapore and operates labs and pilot production facilities in Boston and Shanghai, China. In March, SES and GM—also an investor in SES—signed a joint development agreement. (Earlier post.)
Solid Energy and GM plan to establish a lithium metal battery test production plant near Boston by 2023, and are aiming for final commercialization in 2025. As the industry predicts the possibility of a Solid Energy stock exchange listing, SK Corp. already anticipates the value of its stake to increase significantly.
SES has addressed the dendrite safety problem associated with Li metal batteries by coating lithium metal with a polymer coating and using a high-concentration electrolyte that suppresses the formation of dendrites. Major companies are also conducting research on all-solid-state batteries using solid electrolytes as a solution to the dendrite phenomenon, but it is predicted that it will take a long time to commercialize and launch prototypes due to various technical difficulties.
SES’ strategy is to dominate in the lithium metal battery market by first commercializing a hybrid method that combines a liquid electrolyte and a solid coating, which is easier to implement than an all-solid solution. SES is the first company that has successfully applied this hybrid method. Solid energy lithium metal batteries are expected to be applied to various devices such as smartphones and drones in addition to electric vehicles.
According to McKinsey, the global demand for batteries is expected to grow 17 times in 10 years from 219 GWh in 2019 to 3,612 GWh in 2030. With the prospect of rapid popularization of electric vehicles, major global battery companies are competing fiercely in the development of next-generation batteries that will significantly improve the performance of electric vehicles and expand factories.
SK is pursuing four core businesses, including advanced materials, green, bio, and digital.