MARKETS: Koch Industries is betting on solid-state battery tech – but, you guessed it, continuing to ignore upstream weaknesses
An investment arm of the energy and commodities conglomerate Koch Industries is investing $30 million in Blue Current, a California-based start-up working on solid-state silicon batteries, the New York Times reported this week. Solid-state batteries promise high energy density, long life, fast charging times, and safety from explosions and fires – attractive attributes that are creating a fierce race among companies to develop and, ultimately, mass produce them. The main national front runners in that race are Japan, China, and the US. Japan leads in technological development, China the potential for industrial capacity: At present, China constitutes 79% of global lithium-ion battery manufacturing capacity, though it may be five years behind Japan in terms of technological development.
For the US, currently a distant second in global lithium-ion battery production, solid-state batteries could provide a much-needed opportunity to catch up. And Koch Industries’ high-profile investment in Blue Current could help to draw more capital into the solid-state sector. The big issue: This downstream investment in a high-tech player does nothing about a) battery production or b) the critical resources on which those depend. And China is not letting up on the gas on either front.
MARKETS: Toshiba could go private
The Japanese conglomerate’s biggest shareholder, Singapore-based Effissimo Capital Management, has said it would sell its 9.9% stake to Bain Capital if the US private equity firm tendered an offer, which could pave the way for a take-private deal. The 146-year-old industrial giant this week set up a special committee to vet potential bids, sending the company’s shares up 1.9% for the day. A privatisation could resolve a deadlock amongst activist shareholders, some of whom want to see a two- or three-way split of the conglomerate and reinvent it for the 21st century. Bain, of course, is the recent buyer of Hitachi Metals, which spun off from the Hitachi industrial conglomerate. Major private equity firms have their eyes set on Japan Inc., which may help revitalise Japan’s sprawling conglomerates.