Batteries are the latest landing pad for investors.
In the past week alone, two companies have announced plans to become publicly traded companies by merging with special purpose acquisition companies. European battery manufacturer FREYR said Friday it would become a publicly traded company through a special purpose acquisition vehicle with a valuation at $1.4 billion. Houston-area startup Microvast announced Monday its own SPAC, at a $3 billion valuation.
A $4.4 billion combined valuation for two companies with a little over $100 million in revenue (FREYR has yet to manufacture a battery) would seem absurd were it not for the incredible demand for batteries that’s coming.
Legacy automakers like GM and Ford have committed billions of dollars to shifting their portfolios to electric models. GM said last year it will spend $27 billion over the next five years on the development of electric vehicles and automated technology. Meanwhile, a number of newer entrants are either preparing to begin production of their electric vehicles or scaling up. Rivian, for instance, will begin delivering its electric pickup truck this summer. The company has also been tapped by Amazon to build thousands of electric vans.
The U.S. government could end up driving some of that demand. President Biden announced last week that the U.S. government would replace the entire federal fleet of cars, trucks and SUVs with electric vehicles manufactured in the U.S. That’s 645,047 vehicles. That’s going to mean a lot of new batteries need to be made to supply GM and Ford, but also U.S.-based upstarts like Fisker, Canoo, Rivian, Proterra, Lion Electric and Tesla.
Meanwhile, some of the largest cities in the world are planning their own electrification initiatives. Shanghai is hoping to have electric vehicles represent roughly half of all new vehicle purchases by 2025 and all public buses, taxis, delivery trucks and government vehicles will be zero-emission by the same period, according to research from the Royal Bank of Canada.
The Chinese market for electric vehicles is one of the world’s largest and one where policy is significantly ahead of the rest of the world.
A potential windfall from China’s EV market is likely one reason for the significant investment into Microvast by investors including the Oshkosh Corp., a 100-year-old industrial vehicles manufacturer; the $8.67 trillion money management firm, BlackRock; Koch Strategic Platforms; and InterPrivate, a private equity fund manager. That’s because Microvast’s previous backers include CDH Investments and CITIC Securities, two of the most well-connected private equity and financial services firms in China.
So is the company’s focus on commercial and industrial vehicles. Microvast believes that the market for commercial electric vehicles could be $30 billion in the near term. Currently, commercial EV sales represent just 1.5% of the market, but that penetration is supposed to climb to 9% by 2025, according to the company.
“In 2008, we set out to power a mobility revolution by building disruptive battery technologies that would allow electric vehicles to compete with internal combustion engine vehicles,” said Microvast chief executive Yang Wu, in a statement. “Since that time we have launched three generations of battery technologies that have provided our customers with battery performance far superior to our competitors and that successfully satisfy, over many years of operation, the stringent requirements of commercial vehicle operators.”
Roughly 30,000 vehicles are using Microvast’s batteries and the investment in Microvast includes about $822 million in cash that will finance the expansion of its manufacturing capacity to hit 9 gigawatt hours by 2022. The money should help Microvast meet its contractual obligations, which account for about $1.5 billion in total value, according to the company.
If Chinese investors stand to win big in the upcoming Microvast public offering, a clutch of American investors and one giant Japanese corporation are waiting expectantly for FREYR’s public offering. Northbridge Venture Partners, CRV and Itochu Corp. are all going to see gains from FREYR’s exit — even if they’re not backers of the European company.
Those three firms, along with the International Finance Corp., are investors in 24M, the Boston-based startup licensing its technology to FREYR to make its batteries.
FREYR’s public offering will also be another win for Yet-Ming Chiang, a serial entrepreneur and professor who has a long and storied history of developing innovations in the battery and materials science industry.
The MIT professor has been working on sustainable technologies for the last two decades, first at the now-acquired battery startup A123 Systems (it’s owned by the Chinese industrial company Wanxiang Group)* and then with a slew of startups like the 3D printing company Desktop Metal; lithium-ion battery technology developer, 24M; the energy storage system designer, Form Energy; and Baseload Renewables, another early-stage energy storage startup.
Desktop Metal went public last year after it was acquired by a special purpose acquisition company, and now 24M is getting a potential boost from a big cash infusion into one of its European manufacturing partners, FREYR.
The Norwegian company, which has plans to build five modular battery manufacturing facilities around a site in its home country, intends to develop up to 43 gigawatt hours of clean batteries over the next four years.
For FREYR chief executive Tom Jensen there were two main draws for the 24M technology. “It’s the production process itself,” said Jensen. “What they basically do is they mix the electrolyte with the active material, which allows them to make thicker electrodes and reduce the inactive materials in the battery. Beyond that, when you actually do that you remove the need for a number of traditional production steps… Compared to conventional lithium battery production it reduces production from 15 steps to 5 steps.”
Those process efficiencies combined with the higher volumes of energy-bearing material in the cell leads to a fundamental disruption in the battery production process.
Jensen said the company would need $2.5 billion to fully realize its plans, but that the float should get FREYR there. The company is merging with Alussa Energy Acquisition Corp. in a SPAC backed by investors including Koch Strategic Platforms, Glencore, Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, Franklin Templeton, Sylebra Capital and Van Eck Associates.
All of these investments are necessary if the world is to meet targets for vehicle electrification on the timelines that have been established.
As the Royal Bank of Canada noted in a December report on the electric vehicle industry. “We estimate that globally, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will represent ~3% of 2020 global demand, while plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs) will represent another ~1.3%,” according to RBC’s figures. “But we see robust growth off these low figures. By 2025, when growth is still primarily regulatory driven, we see ~11% BEV global penetration of new demand representing a ~40% CAGR from 2020’s levels and ~5% PHEV penetration representing a ~35% CAGR. By 2025, we see BEV penetration in Western Europe at ~20%, China at ~17.5%, and the US at 7%. Comparatively, we expect internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to grow (cyclically) at a 2% CAGR through 2025. On a pure unit basis, we see ‘peak ICE’ in 2024.”
*This story was corrected to indicate that A123 Systems was acquired by the Wanxiang Group and is no longer operating as an independent entity.