The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] SES AI bolsters battery partnership with Hyundai Motor on EV, UAM

US battery maker to unveil new battery development project with Korean auto giant next year

By Byun Hye-jin

Published : Dec. 14, 2023 - 15:29

    • Link copied

SES AI Corp. CEO Qichao Hu introduces lithium-metal battery samples on Wednesday at a hotel in Songpa-gu, Seoul. (SES AI Corp.) SES AI Corp. CEO Qichao Hu introduces lithium-metal battery samples on Wednesday at a hotel in Songpa-gu, Seoul. (SES AI Corp.)

SES AI Corp., a Boston-based company pioneering in lithium-metal batteries, is strengthening business ties with Hyundai Motor Group in developing the next-generation power source for electric vehicles and Urban Air Mobility.

“Of the three production lines in Korea, we are preparing one for developing B-Sample lithium-metal batteries for EVs in Uiwang, near Seoul, with Hyundai Motor Group,” said SES AI Corp. CEO Qichao Hu during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Wednesday.

Hu added that the company chose the new location to create synergy with the carmaker’s soon-to-be-built lithium-metal development base in its Uiwang research center.

B-Sample refers to one of the six development stages of EV batteries before commercial production – research and development, PreA-, A-, B- and C-Samples and Start of Production. At the B-Sample stage, auto manufacturers consider which car model would be the best match for the batteries, according to Hu.

Highlighting the close partnership with Hyundai, Hu said the company is expecting to announce a second joint development agreement on B-Sample for EV applications with the carmaker early next year.

Earlier in the day, the CEO said SES AI recently forged the first JDA deal with one of the three -- General Motors, Hyundai or Honda -- during an online press conference. Aside from Hyundai, it leaves either GM or Honda as the signing party.

Hu noted SES AI will unveil another joint development project of UAM batteries with Hyundai next year. The carmaker owns a UAM subsidiary called Supernal, which will build an electric air taxi station in the US and start test flights in 2024.

The rest of the company’s Korean production lines include the one in Chungju for developing A-Sample for EVs under a JDA which will also manufacture cathode materials for UAM batteries. The other site was in Chungju, but it will move close to Seoul and be used for developing battery cell, module and pack for UAM.

From 2025, the plants will start commercial production of the lithium-metal batteries for UAM and B- and C-Samples for EVs. In addition to the pouch cells, they plan to produce safer prismatic cells upon the request of OEM clients.

Stressing that lithium-metal batteries can be used for a wide range of car lineups, Hu said, “For premium cars, the batteries with high energy density can offer longer range by pairing with high-nickel cathode materials. You can also use lithium-metal with cost-effective lithium iron phosphate (LFP) cathodes, making them cheaper but safer than the lithium-ion batteries (dominant in the rechargeable battery market).”

Hu added improvement in lithium-ion batteries has “hit a ceiling” -- all the reason why batterymakers are entering the fierce race for securing future battery technology including lithium-metal and lithium-silicon batteries.

LG Energy Solution, for example, recently secured a lithium-metal battery technology using a borate-pyran-based liquid electrolyte for the first time.

“At this moment, our batteries are at a more advanced stage of development (than LG). No company has reached the level of building thousands of battery cells per month, or has signed a deal on B-Sample with OEMs,” Hu said. “LG’s got plenty of B-Sample deals in lithium-ion but none in lithium-metal.”

Lithium-metal batteries’ energy density is higher, the production cost is lower and the manufacturing process is easier than lithium-silicon as well, Hu added.

In terms of the battery management system, Hu touted the company’s artificial intelligence-based Avatar, which has a 92 percent accuracy in predicting possible problems in batteries during the manufacturing process -- even dendrite growth, known as a downside of lithium-metal batteries. It will also apply a healing protocol remotely through the Avatar after the batteries are installed in EVs.