SEOUL -- The holding company of South Korea's third-largest conglomerate SK Group made an extra investment in SolidEnergy Systems, a Singapore-based developer of lithium metal batteries that are lighter and have greater energy density than lithium-ion batteries widely used for electric vehicles. The investment reflects SK's strong push for the development of next-generation batteries.
With an additional injection of 40 billion won ($35 million), SK Holdings said it has become the third-largest shareholder of SolidEnergy Systems (SES) after Temasek Holdings, a government-run holding company in Singapore, and SES founder Qichao Hu. The South Korean company invested 30 billion won in SES in 2018.
Battery suppliers are trying to develop cheaper, more efficient, more powerful batteries. German auto giant Volkswagen has unveiled a massive push to reduce the cost of producing batteries and eventually switch to solid-state technology that uses solid electrodes. With solid-state batteries, faster charging, higher voltage and longer cycle life are possible. However, solid lithium metal anodes in solid-state batteries tend to suffer from the formation and growth of dendrites which can produce undesirable side effects and reduce a battery’s lifespan and safety.
For early commercialization, SES has developed an "anode-free" lithium metal battery with several material advances. The company's hybrid method solved safety problems by coating lithium metal with solid polymer and using a high concentration of electrolytes that inhibit the formation of dendrites. SES signed a joint research contract with U.S auto giant GM in March and plans to establish a test production plant near Boston by 2023.
Lithium-ion batteries work by passing lithium ions between a graphite anode and a lithium cobalt oxide cathode. Due to their large specific capacity and the lowest reduction potential of metallic lithium, researchers have tried to develop high-energy-density lithium metal batteries. In February 2019, SK Innovation joined hands with PolyPlus Battery, a lithium battery developer based in California, to commercialize lithium metal batteries. PolyPlus has invented a conductive glass separator for rechargeable lithium metal batteries.
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