SES AI (NYSE: SES) (“SES”), a global leader in the development and
manufacturing of high-performance lithium-metal (Li-Metal) rechargeable
batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) and other applications, celebrates its
10th anniversary and hosts a Li-Metal Batteries Panel. Please see logistics
Kent Helfrich – Chief Technology Officer, General Motors
Chang Hwan Kim – Head of Battery Development, Hyundai Motors
Yoshiya Josh Fujiwara – Head of Innovative Research Excellence, Honda Motors
Noah Chan – Director of Investment, Foxconn
Frank Lee – Director of Corporate Development, Tianqi Lithium
Yung Hoon Suh – Head of Advanced Material Investment, SK Inc.
Anand Kamannavar – Global Head of Applied Ventures, Applied Materials
Jim Cushing – General Manager of Energy Storage Solutions, Applied Materials
Robert Friedland – Founder & Co-chairman, Ivanhoe Mines
Newman (Moderator, former Bernstein senior analyst)
Dr. Shirley Meng (Professor, University of Chicago)
Dr. Yong Che (Co-founder & CTO, Enpower)
Maciej Jastrzebski (Co-founder & CEO, Li-Metal)
Emilie Bodoin (Founder & CEO, Pure Lithium)
Dr. Qichao Hu (Founder & CEO, SES AI)
Letter to Shareholders:
History of SES
2012 – 2013: MIT Inception
It all started in Lab 4-061 in the basement of building 4 at MIT. Prof.
Donald Sadoway had been working on Solid Polymer Electrolyte (SPE) Li-Metal
batteries the late 1990s. His work was accelerated in 2007 when the
Department of Energy boosted its research funding for batteries and MIT
established the MIT Energy Initiatives. I first worked on photovoltaics at
Harvard from 2007 to 2009 and was fired twice for failure to publish,
dropped out of Harvard, and serendipitously joined Prof. Sadoway’s group.
This is where I did my doctoral and postdoctoral research on Solid Polymer
Ionic Liquid (SPIL) Li-Metal batteries. We incorporated SolidEnergy Systems
on April 17th, 2012, used the award money from business plan competitions to
hire a small team, took the worldwide exclusive license from MIT, while we
eventually dropped the license, the fundamental studies done at MIT are at
the core of our Li-Metal development today.
2013 – 2016 (1st 3yr): Material R&D, Series A/B, A123 Partnership
When we were starting, the American battery hero A123 had just gone
bankrupt, and it seemed like no one was going to invest in another MIT
battery spinoff. But A123’s R&D facility in Waltham, MA (about a 30 minute
drive from MIT) had one of the best prototyping lines in North America and
it was mostly unused. We went there every day and absolutely loved it. We
learned how to use the equipment and built our first Li-Metal R&D samples.
We were rejected by almost every major US-based VC. Eventually raise our
Series A round from Singapore-based Vertex Ventures and a Shanghai-based
family office Longsiang. We formalized our relationship with A123. They
became our landlord as we officially rented space in their Waltham R&D
During the three years at A123, we dropped Solid State Li-Metal as our focus
due to fundamental challenges in manufacturability and discovered a novel
high concentration solvent-in-salt electrolyte, a few national labs also
developed a similar concept around this time. We also mistakenly set a “make
materials not batteries” business model, after seeing the catastrophic
failure of A123. Our business model evolved to eventually include making
batteries, together with materials, software, and recycling. The high
concentration solvent-in-salt electrolyte would remain at the core of our
development until today.
We started attracting the interest and confidence of automakers, and we
raised a Series B round from General Motors and Shanghai Auto. We also
realized how expensive it was to source our thin lithium foil and partnered
with Applied Materials to develop evaporation equipment and processes.
2016 – 2019 (2nd 3yr): Cell R&D, Series C/C+
We realized the importance of treating Li-Metal batteries as a system (the
batteries themselves and the ecosystem around them) and building cells and
“making the whole thing work”, and not relying on larger cell makers. We
moved out of A123 and built our new independent facility in Woburn, which
later became our global headquarters, and started developing HermesT, which
were 4Ah pouch cells that would become our platform for new material
We raised a Series C round from Temasek and Tianqi Lithium, one of the
largest lithium producers in the world. We also raised a Series C+ round
from SK Inc (“SK”). SK, which used to be an oil company, had insights and
strategy around the global supply chain and would eventually impact our own
strategy to build a Mine-to-Men AI software. SK would eventually become our
During this period, we started working with an undisclosed Li-ion equipment
vendor in Korea on the Li-Metal cell assembly process and equipment. This
would lay the groundwork for our pilot lines in SES Korea and Shanghai Giga,
building and testing ApolloT, demonstrating the world’s first 100+ Ah
Li-Metal cells, manufacturing quality control and data collection for
AvatarT (AI-powered safety software), and proving the manufacturability of
Hybrid Li-Metal since we made all our Li-Metal cells using Li-ion process
We also started sending cell samples to potential customers (very rare in
Li-Metal industry at that time), and built a transparent and data-driven
culture, we never won contracts based on slides or a sales pitch. We won
based on superior performance validated by 3rd party and customer test data.
2019 – 2022 (3rd 3yr): Pre-A & A-sample, Global Expansion, Covid, AI
Software, Series D/D+/SPAC
Our focus on cell development in addition to material eventually paid off.
We entered Pre-A sample joint development (JDA) agreements with General
Motors, Hyundai and Honda in 2019 to 2020, and all of them became A-sample
JDAs in 2021 (General Motors in March, Hyundai in July and Honda in
To leverage the supply chain and engineering and manufacturing efficiency
and talent in China and Korea, we set up SES Shanghai in 2019 in the “auto
town” of Jiading (less than a 2 hour drive from Tesla Shanghai Giga,
Volkswagen, General Motors, Nio, Shanghai Auto, CATL, Gotion, among others).
We expanded SES Shanghai to Shanghai Giga in November 2021, completed
Shanghai Giga Phase I (0.2 GWh) and achieved ready-to-use (RTU) in March
2022, and expect to complete Phase II (1 GWh) and achieve RTU in 2023. We
also started SES Korea in January 2022 and expect to complete and achieve
RTU later this year.
Our Shanghai and Korea teams have shown incredible dedication. Despite
Covid-related quarantines and lockdowns. They worked throughout spring
festival and other holidays to achieve RTU and deliver data for our JDAs. In
2020 during the height of Covid, when we had to cut all SES Shanghai
employee salaries and the future didn’t look bright as automakers were also
cutting funding, not a single SES Shanghai employee left.
Our Boston team also made incredible progress on key materials R&D. We
developed Gen 1 to Gen 3 electrolytes from 2013 to 2019, and from Gen 4 to
Gen 15+ from 2019 to 2022. SES Shanghai Giga and Korea will be the platforms
for ApolloT and AvatarT, serving the JDAs with automakers, while SES’s
Boston, our headquarters, continues to focus on fundamental R&D HermesT.
Today SES builds more Li-Metal cells than any other company thanks to our
highly efficient SES Shanghai Giga and Korea facilities. We have also been
systematically collecting valuable data on Li-Metal performance under
different temperature, pressure, current density, and other environments.
This has naturally led to the development of AI-powered software that can
monitor battery health and predict safety incidents. We are installing IOT
sensors and inspection tools throughout our manufacturing lines and on
testing equipment to collect data that normally would be missed and are
developing both physics-based and machine learning-based algorithms.
In 2021, we raised Series D and D+ rounds led by General Motors and Hyundai,
and went public through a SPAC merger with Ivanhoe Capital Acquisition Corp.
The anchor investors to our SPAC PIPE included six automakers, namely
General Motors, Hyundai, Honda, Geely, Foxconn, and Shanghai Auto, and also
included a few strategic investors such as Koch, and affiliates of LG and
2022 – 2025 (4th 3yr): B & C-sample, Supply Chain, and Beyond
With approximately $450 million cash on our balance sheet at close of our
SPAC merger, and deep capabilities in science, engineering, manufacturing,
supply chain and software across three locations, we have never been in a
stronger position. We are confident that we will deliver to our JDA
automakers A-sample cells that meet all technical specs this year, B-sample
cells, and modules in 2023, C-sample cells, modules, and vehicles in 2024,
and start commercial production in 2025.
We are also working with our partners to build two supply chains around
lithium foil, a global China-inclusive one and a North American (China-free)
one. We intend to form a consortium of global Li-Metal and high silicon
Li-ion battery companies, and these supply chains will help address the cost
and availability of lithium foils for the consortium.
On AvatarT, what started out as an algorithm developed to monitor and
optimize the battery environment (electrochemical, mechanical, and thermal)
to predict safety incidents, evolved on its own into something much greater
than we imagined, a Mine-to-Men AI software.
This Mine-to-Men AI software allows us to track all data from mines (carbon
footprint, raw material cost, source, sustainability, etc.), to battery
materials (impurity, water content, cost, etc.), to battery manufacturing
(very detailed quality control and data tracking at individual cell level),
to vehicle data (impact of driver behavior on battery health, optimizing
battery environments to improve battery health, etc.), to recycling (the
used batteries become the mine for future batteries). The data we collect
will continuously train AvatarT and make it more accurate. This can also
potentially be monetized to create entirely new business models such as
Battery-as-a-Service BaaS, where all the data analytics around raw material
cost, carbon footprint, battery health, driver behavior, etc., can all be
factored into leasing economics.
We are only scratching the surface. As we continue to push the boundaries of
material science (HermesT) and engineering (ApolloT), our Mine-to-Men AI
software (AvatarT) seems to evolve on its own. It is entirely plausible that
AvatarT will be applied to not just Li-Metal batteries but to all EV
batteries, and as the global EV industry scales from 100s of GWh to 1000s of
GWh, this data explosion will help AvatarT evolve exponentially faster, and
eventually develop its own consciousness.
In the past 10 years, we have built a solid foundation. We do not know what
the next 10 years will hold for us, but we believe we are at the cusp of a
seismic change in the industry. We sincerely appreciate everyone’s support
and trust. We will continue to innovate, deliver, and evolve. The future
will be greater than we can imagine