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[Exclusive] EV batteries

SK Group eyes jackpot from investment in battery maker SES

By Apr 05, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won 
SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won 

South Korea’s SK Group is expected to pocket at least a tenfold return from its investment in electric vehicle battery startup SES as the battery maker is set to go public on the New York Stock Exchange this year.

According to the overseas investment banking industry on Apr. 5, SES, formerly known as SolidEnergy Systems, is pursuing a listing on the NYSE through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merger.

SK Group is the battery startup’s second-largest shareholder with a 12.7% stake following its largest shareholder Qichao Hu, the founder and chief executive of SES.

Other major shareholders include General Motors Co. and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings Ltd., each with more than a 10% stake in SES.

SES is widely expected to be valued at more than $3 billion once listed, a similar valuation to that of QuantumScape, an American battery maker that went public in September last year.

A spinoff of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, SES manufactures a next-generation EV battery, called an all-solid-state battery (ASSB), which enables longer mileage and a shorter charging time than current EV batteries due to its higher energy density.

SES is a global leader in the development and manufacturing of high-performance Li-Metal batteries for automotive and transportation applications. Founded in 2012, SES is headquartered in Singapore and has operations in Boston, Shanghai and Seoul.

If SES’ enterprise value is set at the expected $3 billion level, SK Group will likely make a return of more than 10 times its investment, according to industry watchers.

SES CEO Qichao Hu
SES CEO Qichao Hu
Last month, GM and SES announced a plan to launch a joint venture to build a test facility in Massachusetts for a high-capacity preproduction battery by 2023.

In an exclusive interview with The Korea Economic Daily via video conference on Monday, SES CEO Qichao Hu said those companies to first commercialize the solid-state battery will change the paradigm in the global EV battery market and the winners will likely emerge in 2025.

The following is an edited transcript of the interview:

▶ In what area does SES cooperate with GM?

We’re jointly developing high-density Li-Metal batteries. New battery technology is being developed through sample A through D. GM and SES are currently making sample A, which takes the longest time. We aim to complete the production of sample A by 2023 and commercialize it by 2025.

▶ How did the relationship with GM begin?

GM first invested in us in 2015. The auto giant recognized our technological prowess in AI-based battery management systems (BMS) as well as our technology in commercializing the all-solid-state battery. We plan to build a plant in Boston to make Li-Metal batteries. GM provides financial assistance, while we are utilizing GM’s R&D staff.

▶ When did SK Group invest in SES?

SK invested in 2018 from the Series C plus phase. It was the biggest investment amount at the time. That’s why SK is our second-largest shareholder.

▶ Why is the all-solid-state battery so important?

Global automakers such as GM and Hyundai Motor Co. have declared that they will transform into EV makers from 2035. So, who can first make such batteries that are safer but less costly is crucial in determining the fate of carmakers. There’s no doubt about it, and by 2025, the winners will emerge.

▶ Apparently, the global competition over battery leadership is becoming fiercer.

Just like Moor’s law in the semiconductor industry that states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years, though the cost of computers is halved, there’s a law for density in the battery business. That is, battery density doubles every 30 years. Li-Metal batteries were first developed in the 1970s. The time has come to commercialize the technology.

▶ Can automakers fully make EV batteries in-house?

It is a global trend that automakers are trying to reduce their reliance on outside battery makers. They can develop batteries independently or join hands with companies with all-solid-state battery technology. Existing lithium-ion battery players are also entering the next-generation battery market. All possibilities are open to them.

▶ Any chance that Li-Metal battery makers will lead the battery market?

Maybe not. Unlike existing lithium-ion batteries, automakers can have the clout over the production of next-generation batteries. Startups like SES need money, while global automakers need technology. Our immediate business model is to supply components such as electrolytes to automakers by 2025 or 2026 and license the intellectual property rights on such batteries to them.

▶ How do you see Korean battery players’ competitiveness?

Lithium-ion batteries were first developed by scientists from the US, UK and Japan, who jointly won the Nobel chemistry prize in 2019. The US is leading the global market in the upstream segment, such as the development of battery materials, and the downstream sector, including making electric cars, but has lost to its Korean counterparts in the mid-stream sector that mass produces lithium-ion batteries. Korea’s three major battery makers are clustered in a state-run research complex, a good example of government-industry cooperation, which the US can’t do properly. The chief technology officer at SES is also a Korean.

Write to Dong-Hui Park and Man-Su Choe at

In-Soo Nam edited this article.

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