GM investing in Mitra Chem, startup building cheaper LFP EV batteries

Sales of the sub-$30,000 Chevy Bolt, being assembled here in Orion Township, Michigan, allowed GM to recently pass Ford as a distant No. 2 behind Tesla in EVs. Future low-cost GM EVs could benefit from the batteries being developed by Mitra Chem.

Joe White | Reuters

General Motors said Wednesday it’s leading a $60 million financing round in Mitra Chem, a California-based startup working to develop lower-cost batteries for electric vehicles.

Mitra Chem, founded by veterans of Tesla and Toyota, is working to develop new types of batteries based on lithium iron phosphate chemistry. The batteries, abbreviated LFP based on the elements’ chemical symbols, are of great interest to EV makers because they do without expensive minerals like cobalt and nickel, meaning they cost less than standard lithium-ion cells.

Tesla, Rivian and Ford Motor are among the automakers using LFP cells in their more affordable models.

LFP cells have proven to be quite durable in EVs. But they have a disadvantage: their power density is lower than standard cells. That means an EV needs more LFP battery cells, and thus more weight, to match the range of a similar model powered by conventional batteries.

In addition, most LFP cells that are currently available are made by Chinese companies — presenting a challenge for automakers aiming to build EVs that qualify for U.S. subsidies.

Mitra Chem is working on a variation of the LFP battery chemistry that adds manganese to the batteries’ cathodes, in a bid to increase the battery cells’ power density while retaining the LFP cost advantage. The company is using what it calls an “AI-powered platform” that, it says, greatly accelerates the process of trying new battery chemistries as it aims to hit just the right formula.

“Our battery materials R&D facility can synthesize and test thousands of cathode designs monthly, ranging in size from grams to kilograms,” said Mitra Chem CEO Vivas Kumar at a news conference ahead of the announcement. “These processes drive significantly shorten learning cycles, enabling shorter time to market for new battery cell formulas.”

Gil Golan, a GM vice president charged with speeding up the process of bringing new EV technologies to market, said the auto giant is stepping up its focus on potential breakthroughs in battery technologies.

“Mitra Chem’s labs, methods and talent will fit well with our own R&D team’s work,” Golan said.

Golan said that if Mitra Chem is successful, its batteries could appear in GM’s vehicles later in this decade.

The specifics of GM’s investment in Mitra Chem weren’t disclosed.


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