This acquisition marks a major turning point for the battery industry, Lux Research says. It is the first instance of a major automotive player outright acquiring a next-generation battery developer, highlighting the strategic importance of advanced energy storage for the automotive value chain.
“Below the surface, however, the acquisition has some wrinkles that make it a risky bet for Bosch,” according to Lux Research senior analyst, Cosmin Laslau.
Among the observations:
Bosch’s acquisition of Seeo comes at a crucial time for the fragile startup. 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. However, its high appetite for burning through cash, its unproven cost claims, and technical issues like 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 (pictured) 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. 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 like Bosch that has ambitions to be a key battery player in a crowded, competitive space. 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 percent in that timeframe. Such ambitions are well-matched to taking a risk on next-generation batteries beyond lithium-ion, like Seeo’s.
The Lux Innovation Grid shows that there remain some intriguing companies in this solid-state space that present better targets for partnerships or acquisition than Seeo — like 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).
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, Lux says.