GM Invests in Start-Up Developing Low-Cost Cathode Materials for EV Batteries Using AI
General Motors will lead the $60 million Series B investment in battery technology start-up Mitra Chem to accelerate development of the company’s low-cost iron cathodes using an AI-driven formulation platform.
Mitra Chem, a start-up developing novel cathode designs based on abundant iron for use in lithium-ion batteries, will receive a strategic investment from General Motors (GM) as part of their $60 million Series B funding round.
Hummer EV powered by the Ultium battery platform. Image used courtesy of General Motors
The investment will allow GM to advance its initiatives toward developing more affordable EV batteries based on new and easy-to-access materials compatible with the company’s Ultium electric vehicle battery platform.
Mitra Chem will use the new funding to accelerate the development and commercialization of their iron-based cathode technology and AI-enabled development processes to simulate and test thousands of unique battery cathode formulations monthly.
Ultium EV Battery Platform
The Ultium EV battery platform is core to GM’s electrification strategy and is designed for flexibility to optimize power, performance, and cost across the company’s portfolio of electric vehicles.
Based on “long pouch” lithium-ion cells, the Ultium platform can scale from 50 kilowatt-hours to over 200 kWh, depending on the performance goals and features of the vehicle platform.
According to GM, the platform can accelerate a large SUV, like the Hummer EV, from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds or enable its Silverado pick-up to tow up to 10,000 pounds.
The platform can also be configured for smaller models, like the Lyriq, that can reach more than 310 miles on a single charge, and more affordable models, like the Equinox, start at a list price of around $30,000.
Ultium EV battery platform. Image used courtesy of General Motors
Long Pouch Battery Cells Key to Configurability
Core to its configurability are the high-energy pouch cells, which offer more flexible configuration options than traditional cylindrical cells. The long pouch cells can be stacked vertically or horizontally in modules as required by the needs of the vehicle platform. This allows for a more tightly packed battery configuration that offers more passenger space and higher-density energy storage and allows designers to optimize a vehicle's layout better.
For further space-saving, the platform also integrates the battery electronics components directly into the modules, reducing wiring requirements by up to 80%.
Pouch battery cells stacked vertically or horizontally. Image used courtesy of General Motors
Mitra Chem Battery Design Innovations
Batteries are essential to EVs and the decarbonization of global economies, but the supply chain for essential battery materials remains underdeveloped. Mitra Chem is developing novel iron-based battery cathode formulations, like lithium manganese iron phosphate (LMFP), that can replace legacy nickel and cobalt-based solutions in lithium-ion batteries to address this challenge.
According to Mitra Chem, besides addressing supply constraints, its iron-based cathodes are cheaper, cleaner, and safer than legacy solutions.
Mitra Chem has developed a proprietary machine-learning capability that can reduce commercialization time by as much as a factor of ten to accelerate its cathode design innovations.
Based in Mountain View, California, Mitra Chem’s research and development facility synthesizes and evaluates thousands of new cathode designs each month, significantly reducing time to market for battery cell formulations – a key selling point for GM in its investment decision as it expands its battery research and development capabilities.
LMFP iron cathode is cheaper and performs better. Image used courtesy of Mitra Chem
Securing Access to Battery Materials
GM had already addressed battery material supply issues before the Mitra Chem investment. GM currently uses a nickel cobalt manganese aluminum (NCMA) chemistry that reduces the cobalt content in their batteries by more than 70%.
GM and LG Energy Solution recently joined forces to develop and manufacture GM’s Ultium pouch cells, including a new Ohio plant with 30 gigawatt-hours of production capacity.