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BASF Advances Battery Agenda

Energy Storage: Purchase of Merck KGaA’s electrolytes business bolsters battery materials unit

by Marc S. Reisch
February 27, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 9

Credit: BASF
A BASF lab technician works on a lithium-ion test battery.
BASF lab technician works on lithium-ion test battery.
Credit: BASF
A BASF lab technician works on a lithium-ion test battery.

Advancing its goal of becoming a major supplier of battery materials for electric vehicles, BASF will buy the lithium electrolytes and additives business of the German drug and chemical firm Merck.

The acquisition is expected to close later this year for an undisclosed price. It comes a week after BASF paid $58 million to acquire Ovonic Battery, a Rochester Hills, Mich.-based firm that licenses the nickel-metal hydride battery technology used in most electric vehicles today (C&EN, Feb. 20, page 10). Andreas Kreimeyer, a member of BASF’s board of directors, says the Merck electrolytes business “enhances the expertise we offer to automotive battery manufacturers around the world.”

Klaus Bofinger, head of Merck’s advanced technologies unit, explains that electrolytes, which conduct an electric charge inside a battery, have little in common with Merck’s other activities. BASF, he says, is better positioned to sell a variety of battery materials.

BASF began a push into battery materials in 2009, when it took a role in a $55 million German industry-government consortium to develop affordable lithium-ion batteries. It later licensed battery cathode technology from Argonne National Laboratory. Now it is building a $50 million cathode plant in Elyria, Ohio. Earlier this year the company paid $50 million for an equity position in Sion Power, a developer of lithium-sulfur batteries.

At the start of 2012, BASF formally set up a battery materials business in which it expects to invest “a three-digit million” sum by 2016. In addition to electrolytes and cathodes, a spokesman says, the firm is also developing anodes and separators—the two other main components of a battery. Battery materials competitors include chemical firms Dow Chemical and Huntsman Corp., as well as battery makers Samsung and LG Chem.

The lithium-ion car battery market is small today but could reach $3 billion by 2017, says Kevin See, an analyst with the business research firm Lux Research. Limiting growth is the high cost of the batteries. “This is where material developers like BASF will be important in helping to reduce costs,” See says.



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