Bosch acquires Silicon Valley battery startup Seeo

The takeover includes Seeo’s intellectual property (IP), its production line in California and all of its staff according to Seeo, and the company has yet to sell any of its batteries commercially. Seeo has been developing battery modules, stationary energy storage solutions and automotive packs under its DryLyte brand and recently has been trying to pivot from lower-energy LFP to higher energy NCA cathodes for its storage solutions to keep ahead of competition.

Lux Research states that this is a first instance of a major automotive player outright acquiring a next-generation battery developer, which highlights the strategic importance of advanced energy storage for the automotive value chain. Nevertheless Cosmin Laslau, Lux Research’s senior analysts sees some risk, stating, "Below the surface, however, the acquisition has some wrinkles that make it a risky bet for Bosch."

Issues

As mentioned before Seeo has been trying to move towards NCA development, and it is at a crucial juncture. The company has been looking for joint ventures to help scale up production of cells capable of 350 Wh/kg to prove its new technology. When looking at the Lux Innovation Grid for solid-state battery developers, this new technology from Seeo places it only in the mid-pack. The reasons being the high costs involved, unproven cost claims and technical issues like low ionic conductivity as Lux Research highlights. Low ionic conductivity for one limits power and requires the battery to be heated up to 80°C.

Hence the risk here is that Bosch is taking on a mid-pack player. The terms of the deal remain undisclosed. Therefore if the acquisition price was low enough then the move was worth it for the German company. More investment and time is definitely needed to move Seeo’s technology to be commercially viable. Lux Research adds that "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". Bosch is moving towards achieving its 300 Wh/kg to 400 Wh/kg goal by 2020, while at the same time ensuring costs fall 50%. Thereby the Seeo takeover is a risk that is potentially well taken.

Lux Research’s Grid shows that there are some interesting players in the solid-state space who potentially present themselves as better acquisition and partnership options than Seeo. Lux Research names Imprint Energy, Ilika and ProLogium as contenders on the startup front and Hydro-Quebec’s IREQ on the industrial laboratory front. Lux Research highlights that there has been activity in this space with Apple apparently quietly buying thin-film battery maker Infinite Power Solutions, GM investing in Sakti3 and SolidEnergy and Volkwagen investing in Quantumscape and cooperating with Oxis Energy.

A buying spree

Lux Research predicts a buying spree for next-generation battery technology over the coming years. With the growth of the plug-in vehicles market, the trend is rather unstoppable.

"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," Laslau added.

"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."

pv magazine recently published a Storage Special, with in-depth features, interviews, market analysis and 20 of the most exciting battery technologies of the moment. It is available to download for free.