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EV batteries

SM Lab develops cathode with 98% nickel, industry’s highest density

The startup, aiming for a 2022 IPO, is reviewing plans to supply the product to an overseas automaker

By Aug 18, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Hyundai Motor's latest EV model IONIQ5
Hyundai Motor's latest EV model IONIQ5

SM Lab, a South Korean battery material startup, has developed a cathode with 98% nickel content, the highest density ever for rechargeable batteries used in electric vehicles.

The battery research arm of state-run Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) said on Wednesday it has successfully developed the nickel-rich cathode material, which can be commercialized through mass production in the first half of next year at the earliest.

Industry officials said the development marks the industry’s first to break beyond the barrier of 94% nickel content in cathodes.

During a battery conference organized by Korea’s trade, industry and energy ministry in June, the country’s three major battery makers – LG Energy Solution Ltd., Samsung SDI Co. and SK Innovation Co. – said 94% could be the highest nickel density theoretically possible for mass production.

“Given that about 100 kg of cathodes are needed in batteries for an electric car, the new nickel-rich cathode can have an additional 1,600 Ah capacity, meaning longer mileage,” said Jaephil Cho, chief executive of SM Lab.

Cho, a professor of the university’s Energy and Chemical Engineering Department, also heads the Samsung SDI-UNIST Future Battery Research Center, a joint venture between Samsung and UNIST.

He expects the new cathode to increase an electric vehicle’s mileage by 15-16% while slashing battery production costs by 20%.

A cathode is a key raw material that accounts for about 40% of rechargeable battery production costs.

CEO Cho said SM Lab aims to begin the mass production of the cathode with 98% nickel content in the first quarter of 2022, and raise its production capacity from the current 20 kg a day to 21,600 tons a year by July 2023.

“We are reviewing plans to supply our product to an overseas automaker,” he said.

SM Lab CEO Jaephil Cho
SM Lab CEO Jaephil Cho


A former senior researcher at Samsung SDI, Cho has been leading the Samsung-UNIST battery research center since 2014. He established the startup, SM Lab, in July 2018.

SM Lab is the only company in the world with the technology to manufacture nickel-based single-crystal anode material, which makes the battery lifespan 30% longer.

SM Lab received a total of 64 billion won ($55 million) in venture capital investment from the likes of Korea Investment Partners and STIC Ventures until last year.

Recently, the battery startup attracted 45 billion won in pre-IPO investment.

The company plans to go public on the tech-heavy Kosdaq market in July next year. It has hired NH Investment & Securities Co. and Korea Investment & Securities Co. as its IPO managers.

Currently, the domestic cathode market is dominated by two players – EcoPro BM Co. and L&F Co. Neither company has yet produced a cathode with a nickel content of over 90%.

EcoPro BM is working with SK Innovation to raise the nickel content in its cathodes to as high as 94%.

The global demand for cathodes is forecast to grow more than tenfold to 6.3 million tons by 2030 from 609,000 tons in 2020, according to market tracker SNE Research.

Write to Hae-Sung Lee at

In-Soo Nam edited this article.

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