SES: This Company Is A Global Powerhouse In Li-Metal Rechargeable Batteries

By Amit Chowdhry • Jul 13, 2023

SES AI is known as a global leader in the development and production of high-performance Li-Metal rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) and other applications. Launched in 2012, SES AI is an integrated Li-Metal battery manufacturer with strong capabilities in material, cell, module, AI-powered safety algorithms, and recycling. Pulse 2.0 interviewed SES AI founder and CEO Dr. Qichao Hu to learn more.

Dr. Hu’s Background

Qichao Hu

Dr. Hu always loved physics. “One of my first experiences was an internship at the American Museum of Natural History Hayden Planetarium in New York City when I was in high school, and learning about black holes, the expansion of the universe, and the Big Bang. I actually wrote my high school thesis on The Cycling Dynamics and how the universe began in a Big Bang and is now expanding but will eventually end and begin again in another Big Bang. It was fascinating. I learned that everything is connected, energy, intelligence, matter, and they simply represent themselves in different forms across different spacetime coordinates,” said Dr. Hu. “This laid an important foundation to everything I did later. When I started working on batteries, then started my company SES out of MIT, then pursued AI as a tool to improve manufacturing quality and accelerate scientific discovery, then partnered with some of the world’s largest automotive OEMs… these may seem like different things, to me the battery is like a tiny string that connects everything.”

Formation Of SES 

How did the idea for SES come together? “Although the US is a powerhouse in innovation and known for EV giants like Tesla, it doesn’t have a blue-chip, global battery company. That was the void I saw when I started SES out of a basement lab at MIT. While the modern lithium battery was invented in the US, the lithium battery industry was really developed in Asia over the last 15 to 20 years, and now the US is in a position of playing catch-up,” Dr. Hu shared. “Our original approach was a solid state Li-Metal battery, which we were developing for high temperature downhole exploration applications. Then we realized the limitations of the solid state Li-Metal battery, namely that it required high temperatures to be operational or was very difficult to scale up especially when we needed to stack multiple layers. Then we pivoted to a hybrid Li-Metal approach that involved several key technologies including: 1) high concentration solvent-in-salt electrolyte which  fundamentally changes the way lithium dendrites grow, 2) a protective coating this further stabilizes the interface between the electrolyte and lithium metal anode, 3) a composite lithium metal anode that has fundamentally different lithium dendrite formation mechanism, and others including AI-powered battery health monitoring algorithm, large format Li-Metal cell engineering and manufacturing capability, and others.”

Challenges Faced

What are some of the challenges Dr. Hu faced in building the company and has the current macroeconomic climate affected the company?

“Understanding the macro is crucial for accomplishing the micro. 2012 and 2013 were difficult years because American investors were averse to batteries, and America as a whole couldn’t compete against South Korean or Japanese companies, like LG or Samsung, in lithium-ion. However, America leads the world in technology, and that’s what we doubled down on: Building technology. That’s what America does best, and we leaned into it,” acknowledged Dr. Hu. “There can be a lot of trial-and-error in this field. Luckily, we have perfected data-driven models, and we were ahead in understanding how AI was poised to disrupt both emerging markets like electric vehicles, and older industries like mining. We’re unique in that we sit at the intersection of these arenas, and are constantly capturing new data that allows us greater insight into where they’re heading.”

Core Products

 What are SES’ core products and features? “Our solvent-in-salt liquid electrolyte, where we replace graphite with lithium metal and the electrolyte is liquid, is SES’ key. But sourcing rare earth materials has taught us a lot about the supply chain process, and we’ve built out models based on our unique vantage view,” Dr. Hu explained. “SES’ intelligence system collects data from the entire battery production process, from mines to retail products. We are allowing for greater transparency in supply chains, which is especially important as the U.S. builds out its own end-to-end infrastructure for rare earth materials and manufacturing —- a call back to the days the Midwest automobile industry was revered across the world. And we’re proud to help these iconic companies, including the great GM, find footing in a modern world defined by data and AI.”

SES’ core products include:


— Li-Metal battery – SES develops and manufactures and supplies Li-Metal batteries to EV and eVTOL OEMs

— Li-Metal component materials – SES also develops and manufactures and supplies Li-Metal materials including electrolyte, anode and others to other Li-Metal battery peers to accelerate the adoption of Li-Metal battery technology and drive the cost down

— Li-Metal mineral materials – SES is working with partners to develop and source North America-based mineral materials from mining to refining to lithium salt to cathode precursors, all aimed at building a robust North American EV battery material supply chain


— Avatar AI health monitoring algorithm – SES develops and supplies Avatar, an AI-powered battery health monitoring and incident prediction algorithm that integrates material, manufacturing and live battery testing data

Evolution Of SES’ Technology

How has SES’ technology evolved since launching? “We had the foresight to recognize the role that both AI and blockchain would play, and we adopted them to a space that needs to be nimble. A lot of other companies have rolled out emerging technologies, but we are constantly innovating,” Dr. Hu pointed out. “While our core technology has always focused on Li-Metal, our approach has been constantly evolving. From solid state, to high concentration solvent-in-salt, to protective coating, to composite lithium anode, to novel cathode, to AI health monitoring algorithm, to novel manufacturing technology for lithium metal, etc. Our approach will continue to evolve, but our core focus will remain unchanged.”

Most Significant Milestones

What have been some of SES’ most significant milestones? “Securing our first investors and partners like Halliburton and Weatherford definitely helped validate the concept we had, as well as partnering with three of the largest automotive OEMs: General Motors, Hyundai, and Honda on the world’s first Li-Metal A sample and soon B Sample,” Dr. Hu commented. “Going public last year was another one. Seeing the Biden administration commit to electric vehicles in such a meaningful way, with real policy objectives, and real money behind these objectives has been very rewarding to see.”

Differentiation From The Competition

What differentiates SES from its competition? “What our partners, investors, customers and employees respect about SES is that SES tells the truth, completely unfiltered. The reality is that most respectable car and battery companies have already abandoned solid state batteries, but due to the marketing power of solid state, many still pretend that they are working on solid state. But SES came out and openly said it abandoned solid state and is pursuing Li-Metal,” Dr. Hu replied. “When other next generation battery companies are playing with small scale cells and manipulating testing conditions, SES is publishing large 50Ah and 100Ah Li-Metal cell data completely following the most rigorous testing standards. To this day, SES is the first and only company to have entered into automotive A sample joint development agreement with auto OEMs for Li-Metal, and will soon do the same for B sample. No other Li-Metal or solid state company has entered into automotive A sample joint development.”

Future Company Goals

What are some of SES’ future company goals? “The Biden administration is investing significantly into a new North American EV supply chain. They want to bring investment back to North America, everything from mining, to refining, to material precursors, to lithium salt, to battery components, to battery cells, to packs, to vehicles, to recycling, etc. We need to ensure traceability and transparency across the entire supply chain. SES is using blockchain and AI to track the entire supply chain from mine to men, to create greater transparency and set new industry standards, as the US positions itself as the new global leader in next generation EV and batteries,” Dr. Hu noted. “SES is using blockchain, AI, and our intelligence system to create more transparency, and new industry standards based on promoting human rights and dignity, as the United States positions itself as a global leader in EVs and batteries.”