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This photo taken on March 12, 2021 shows a worker with car batteries at a factory for Xinwangda Electric Vehicle Battery Co. Ltd, which makes lithium batteries for electric cars and other uses, in Nanjing in China's eastern Jiangsu province.

ONE of the world’s biggest battery companies is mulling a reversal on a US$1.3bil (RM5.8bil) project to churn out electric vehicle (EV) powerpacks in Arizona.

South Korea’s LG Energy Solution Ltd cited surging costs and slowing demand as it now rethinks the investment announced in April.

That’s a blow to EVs and batteries, and to the United States as it tries to build out its supply chain. It is, however, a much-needed opening for funding for under-the-radar technology breakthroughs.

So far, the energy storage industry has been dominated by giants like China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd, BYD Co, Samsung SDI Co Ltd and LG Energy Solutions Ltd.

Their existing scale has allowed them to gain market share and supply existing demand. By making incremental improvements to their batteries’ energy density and fast charging, it’s been enough to keep investors satiated. That’s largely shut out big-ticket funding for smaller, more promising technology upstarts.

What’s more, investors prefer to focus on the electric carmakers more than they do on batteries that power them.

Now, as costs for everything from labour to raw materials rise, splashing out to make multi-billion dollar, headline-grabbing investments isn’t as easy. Large players – like LG – are being forced to reconsider their overall strategy to meet forecasts.

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As the South Korean firm contemplates cutting back in Arizona, it separately struck a non-binding deal with a Kansas-based miner, Compass Minerals, to supply lithium carbonate and hydroxide to secure raw materials and beef up its supply chain.

In June, the firm broke ground on a nickel processing plant in Indonesia. Without raw material access, there will be no powerpacks to make.

Regardless of the potential impact of LG’s move, the recalibration is an opportunity to get investors focused on technologies that actually stand to move the needle.

Nomura analysts estimate over 40% of its battery production capacity will be in the United States by 2025.

Several startups are researching options for better and cheaper batteries for EVs and grid use, along with EV charging and the infrastructure needed around it.

Across the energy storage supply chain, small firms are looking for lower cost options by using more abundantly available materials like sodium, sulfur, manganese and in some cases, no metals at all.

With progress on the cathode-side of the battery topping, firms are now focused on other parts like the anode, separator and electrolyte. Others are looking for manufacturing processes that will help store more energy.

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