Honda Motor Co Signs Joint Development Agreement with MIT Spinoff SES, a Company Developing Lithium-Metal Batteries for EVs

Honda Motor Co Signs Joint Development Agreement with MIT Spinoff SES, a Company Developing Lithium-Metal Batteries for EVs

Author: Eric Walz   

Japan's Honda Motor Co. today signed a joint development agreement with Massachusetts-based EV battery research and development company SES that will focus on the development of Lithium-Metal (Li-Metal) batteries for electrified vehicles.

The development agreement between the two companies was signed in December, but it was not made public until today. SES was founded in 2012 as an MIT spinoff company. The company was formerly known as "SolidEnergy Systems".

SES is a global leader in the development and initial production of high-performance hybrid Li-Metal rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) and other applications. 

In Nov 2021, SES unveiled Apollo, a 107 Ah Li-Metal battery, which it says is the largest in the world and a breakthrough for the automotive industry. 

This new joint development agreement with SES is part of the overall battery strategy of Honda as the company transitions to electrifying its model lineup with Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) vehicles and fully-electric models.

Batteries are a crucial component of battery electric vehicles (EV) and Honda has been looking into several options for next-generation batteries, including the all-solid-state batteries Honda is developing independently.

As part of the development agreement with SES, Honda will pursue joint research on safe, high-energy EV batteries using a Li-Metal anode, which have the potential to hold much more energy than today's lithium-ion batteries that use a carbon-based anode material.

SES says its "anode-free" Li-Metal battery is twice as dense as comparable lithium-ion batteries being used by automakers today. The Li-Metal batteries are also lighter and take up less space, meaning more can be packed together without increasing a vehicle's weight.

"The battery is an essential component of EVs, and Honda has been concurrently looking into several options toward the realization of high-capacity, safe and low-cost next-generation batteries," said Shinji Aoyama, Managing Executive Officer in Charge of Electrification, Honda Motor Co.  "Honda will continue to establish collaborative relationships with companies which have advanced technologies, as needed, to offer highly-competitive and attractive EVs to our customers."

In addition to the announcement of working with Honda on Li-Metal batteries, SES plans to list on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) via a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC). Through the private investment in public equity (PIPE) offered by the SPAC, Honda plans to acquire approximately 2% of the shares of SES AI Corporation after its planned IPO.

In October of last year, Honda signed a PIPE subscription agreement with Ivanhoe Capital Acquisition Corp. ("Ivanhoe"), a SPAC that's listed on the NYSE. Ivanhoe will wholly own SES and plans to change its name to SES AI Corporation prior to the completion of the merger.  

Honda is scheduled to acquire its 2% stake in Ivanhoe on the day of the merger.

Fulfillment of all prerequisites for the execution of the merger, including approval of SES and Ivanhoe shareholders, is a prerequisite for the stock purchase by Honda, the automaker said.

In March of last year, U.S. automaker General Motors announced a separate joint venture with SES on the development of Li-Metal batteries. The partnership is not new, GM has been investing in SES for roughly six years and lead a $139 million funding round in the company in April 2021. The two companies plan to build a new manufacturing line in Massachusetts to manufacture prototype batteries.

According to GM President Mark Reuss, the batteries that the two companies will develop will help the automaker build EVs that are more affordable with higher levels of performance. The Li-Metal battery chemistry developed by SES is expected to be used for the next generation of GM's Ultium batteries by the middle of the decade.

"Because of the high energy density of lithium metal, it delivers a significantly longer driving range than today's EV batteries. Our Li-Metal batteries charge quickly, too — up to 80% of battery capacity in just 15 minutes," said Qichao Hu, SolidEnergy Systems CEO when its partnership with GM was announced. "Our technology makes these features available at an accessible price by enabling production using traditional lithium-ion manufacturing infrastructure. It's very cost-effective and suited for large-scale production."

In November at the company's "Battery World 2021" event, SES announced the largest Li-Metal facility in the world called the "Shanghai Giga" is being built in Shanghai. The new 300,000 square-foot facility is scheduled for completion in 2023.

The Li-Metal batteries can also be produced on the same assembly lines as lithium-ion batteries, so there is no need for costly investments in new equipment to produce them.

Honda has been working with GM on a fully-electric SUV named the Prologue, which will launch in the U.S. in 2024 under Honda's luxury brand Acura. 

The upcoming Prologue marks the beginning of Honda's eventual transition to fully-electric vehicles. Honda plans to continually add new electric models to its lineup and aims to sell a total of 500,000 fully-electric vehicles in the U.S by 2030.

Honda plans to achieve 100% zero emission vehicles sales in North America by 2040, so the company will need a steady supply of advanced batteries its reach its self imposed targets. So the new joint venture partnership with SES is just the beginning.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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