In late 2015, intrepid emissions testing researchers sent shockwaves through the automotive world by catching Volkswagen in one of the biggest corporate scandals ever: Hidden software allowed its diesel engines to cheat on emissions testing. The repercussions are still being felt today, as more and more countries are turning against the technology. The common narrative is that this was a surprising, unforeseen event, and in many ways, it was. However, newly developed, specialized, big data analysis allows us to investigate diesel innovation – or rather, the lack of diesel innovation – and uncover some interesting trends. By applying our Lux Tech Signal software tool to the topic of diesel engines, we see a suspicious decline in interest in diesel innovation since 2010, as shown in the figure below:
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM in Freiburg, Germany, have demonstrated the use of digital holography to discover defects in objects as small as a few centimeters. Markus Fratz, Alexander Bertz, and Tobias Beckmann used 3D digital holography by deploying a set of short laser flashes and interferometry to identify defects to a precision of a few microns. Continue reading
Bosch, one of the world’s top automotive suppliers, has announced it will acquire Seeo, the solid-state battery developer of next-generation energy storage. This acquisition includes all of Seeo’s IP and research staff, and marks a major turning point for the battery industry. 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:
- Bosch’s acquisition of Seeo (see the full Lux profile of Seeo here — client registration required) 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 our 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. 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 that our recent report, Watch the Throne: How LG Chem and Others Can Take Panasonic’s EV Battery Crown by 2020 details (client registration required). 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), like Seeo’s.
- As our Lux Innovation Grid shows, 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. 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.
Clients 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.