Lux: Bosch’s acquisition of Seeo risky but worthwhile; likely start of a spree of buying advanced battery developers
Commenting on Bosch’s newly revealed acquisition of Seeo, the Berkeley Lab spin-out developing solid-state Li-ion batteries (earlier post), Lux Research noted that the acquisition marks the first instance of a major automotive player outright acquiring a next-generation battery developer (although some OEMs, e.g., GM and Volkswagen Group, have already invested in advanced battery companies).
The Bosch-Seeo link up highlights the strategic importance of advanced energy storage for the automotive value chain. However, noted Lux Research Senior Analyst, Cosmin Laslau, the acquisition “has some wrinkles that make it a risky bet for Bosch.” Among the observations:
Bosch’s acquisition of Seeo comes at a crucial time for the startup, according to Lux. Seeo has been trying to pivot from lower-energy LFP (lithium iron phosphate) cathodes towards higher-energy NCA (nickel cobalt aluminum) cathodes to keep ahead of the competition. It was also looking to set up joint ventures to help it scale up production of cells capable of 350 Wh/kg, a crucial step in proving its new technology. (Seeo’s LFP cells are around 220 Wh/kg.)
However, its high appetite for burning through cash, its unproven cost claims, and technical issues such as low ionic conductivity (which limit power and require the battery be heated to about 80 °C) place it mid-pack in the Lux Innovation Grid of interviewed solid-state battery developers.
Bosch is taking a risk on a mid-pack player, but if the acquisition price was low enough (terms were undisclosed) it was a move worth making, according to Lux. Seeo’s technology will require quite a bit more investment and time before it is ready for a commercial debut. Nonetheless, the buy is an almost necessary one for a supplier such as Bosch that has ambitions to be a key battery player in a crowded, competitive space. (Earlier post.)
As Bosch’s CEO commented earlier this year, the supplier is hoping its batteries reach the 300 Wh/kg to 400 Wh/kg mark by 2020, and that at the same time costs fall by 50% in that timeframe. Such ambitions are well-matched to taking a risk on next-generation batteries beyond lithium-ion (Li-ion), such as Seeo’s.
There are a number of intriguing companies in this solid-state space that present better targets for partnerships or acquisition than Seeo, Lux suggests, pointing to Imprint Energy, Ilika, and ProLogium on the start-up front, and Hydro-Quebec’s IREQ arm on the industrial laboratory front.
While all of these players have their own associated strengths and weaknesses, it does mean that the next-generation solid-state battery space remains open, despite starting to heat up. In addition to Bosch buying Seeo, Apple is rumored to have quietly acquired distressed thin-film battery developer Infinite Power Solutions at the end of 2014 (not to mention GM’s investments into Sakti3 and SolidEnergy, and VW investing into Quantumscape and working with Oxis Energy, two other beyond-Li-ion players).—Lux Research
Lux also sugests that the acquisition marks the start of a likely buying spree of next-generation battery technology over the coming years. The larger trend is unstoppable: plug-in vehicles have found a successful niche, and will grow from that niche in the coming decades.
As these OEMs and their suppliers look to appeal to more buyers, the pressure for longer driving ranges for less money will push Li-ion to the breaking point, necessitating next-generation technology. For now, solid-state batteries are the best positioned to take that crown, but other families like lithium-sulfur, high-voltage cathodes, and alternative ions are worth watching, too.
Automotive players and their supply chains should continue to watch this space closely for acquisition opportunities, while also doubling down on internal research and development efforts to push beyond Li-ion. Expectations should be managed, however. Despite the growing hype around solid-state batteries, do not expect Li-ion to lose its crown in the next decade. It will be surpassed eventually, and those that prepare now by securing key IP and leading researchers, will be the best positioned to prevail in the future of transportation drivetrains.—Cosmin Laslau