Sustainable battery technology: For 2025 EV vision

This post originated from EPR Magazine (Electrical & Power Review).

Electric vehicle segment is gaining momentum in India, amidst the alarming concerns of heavy consumption and imports of fossil fuels. The idea of large-scale penetration of EV presents a new set of sectorial planning challenges.

NITI Aayog’s proposal to convert two-wheelers below 150 cc to electric by 2025
NITI Aayog’s impetus is towards developing green economy and solving the overarching problem of India’s current account deficit contributed through crude imports. According to surveys, over 80 percent of two-wheeler owners support the proposed conversion. Niranjan Nayak, Business Head (Energy Infrastructure Solutions), Delta Electronics India Pvt Ltd. says “Apparently, the power requirement to charge an electric 2-wheeler is around 3-5 KW, whereas an electric car’s charging infrastructure requires 100KW, with an investment of more than ₹50 lakhs. So, the cost of charging requirement, but also the hardware of a 2-wheeler EV is significantly economical than the electric cars.”

Supporting the decision by NITI Aayog, C K Sreenath, Deputy General Manager (SG & EV), BESCOM, says “The majority of the two wheelers are below 150 cc and the average travelling distance of these two wheelers in the cities is about 50 – 75 kms. If these two wheelers are converted into electric, there would be substantial reduction in the pollution level.”

Naman Chopra, Director, CEO – RexNamo Automotive, welcomed the government’s initiate and insisted on having the electric two-wheelers with anti-lock brakes as a standard requirement in every modelled vehicle. He further says, “The ABS as standard can save lives. E-bikes eliminate local air pollution and have been shown to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Scooters and bikes have the biggest share of sales in India with about 21 million units sold in year 2019 alone. If all of these were electric, you can image the positive effect it will have.”

The government’s intense interest for the electric mobility has reduced the relative taxes, creating an ecological trend among the consumers. Electric mobility will help curb air pollution, noise pollution levels, whilst promoting battery based products. Kapil Shelke, CEO and Founder, Tork Motors, expressed pleasure in the government’s move and says, “This proposal facilitates oil generation opportunities, improving the country’s economy, and thus making rupee a stronger currency in the international markets. This opens a new horizon generating a revenue stream for the country. With a detailed roadmap and clear policies, India is sure to be on top of electric mobility globally.”

Dr. Saurabh Markandeya, Co-CEO & Executive Director for SHADO Group, openly support the government’s decision and said, “I think the idea of having a complete electric vehicle market for sale between 2023 – 2025 is a commendable plan. We advise that in addition to government policies, they leverage Indian SMEs and entrepreneurs and empower them to develop – and profit from – their own charging infrastructure.”

Terming the proposal as a step ahead to promote ecological and affordable mobility solutions, Nagesh Basavanhalli, MD & CEO, Greaves Cotton Ltd. says, “This will drive more electric 2 wheelers on road backed by incentives, tax rate cuts, which will further boost the adoption especially from prospective user in the bottom of pyramid. The entire EV ecosystem consisting of EV access points, charging infrastructure, EV parts supply needs to be scaled up to support the transition towards electric mobility.”

Wybren Van Der Vaart, Co-Founder & CEO, BrightBlu, views this as a bold initiative, and said, “This would pave ways for start-ups to invest in Electric vehicles. The majority of the vehicles on Indian roads are the 2 and 3 wheelers making up almost 80 per cent of the vehicles on road. To convert all these vehicles to electric is definitely not an easy task.”

Considering consumer acceptability and desirability for decision making
Citing the consumer acceptability, to be one of the significant factors before drawing a conclusion, Sreenath says, “For any user to switch to electric, there should be a supporting mechanism, as the cost of the electric vehicle is 75 per cent higher than the cost of internal combustion vehicles. Aggressive policy by the government can give the desired push for faster adoption of electric vehicles. Also, because of poor revenue visibility, private entrepreneurs are not investing in the creation of charging infrastructure though it is considered as a delicensed activity.

Vaart, noted that for successful transition to electric mobility, key factors such as consumer acceptability and desirability must be addressed. Improvements in electric vehicle performance, driving range and features will aid to increase awareness of the economic benefits behind electric vehicles, reduce range anxiety and increase demand for charging infrastructure.

Chopra terms consumer acceptability as a key factor for product marketing. If there is no demand for creation and awareness of the benefits of e-vehicles, then no matter how good the product is, nobody will buy. He says,”The government should provide all available incentives to the entrepreneurs pursuing this trade and also subsidy to the buyers buying the vehicles.”

It’s difficult to judge whether the consumer/customer’s expectations are classic or trendy and classy. It’s up to a customer, whether to draw a line of compromise between his wants and acquired product features. With an increase in demand and an increase in knowledge of the customer, the process of developing products and compromising features generating various models of the same products is very common these days.

According to Shelke, the government’s decision to lower the taxes to 5 per cent, in terms of GST offering subsidies to commercial EVs is a positive sign for India moving towards electric mobility. Multiple surveys have stated that people are willing to switch to electric vehicles, if provided cc options and opportunities. Cost-conscious two-wheeler buyers might be a better bet. Nayak adds, “We believe such decisions are not taken overnight without substantial research. A report from NITI Aayog “India Leaps Ahead: Transformative Mobility Solutions for All”, outlines the new envisioned mobility paradigm and the elements towards building one were substantially detailed.”

On the progressive idea of transforming to EV, Maxson Lewis, MD – Magenta Power said, “We are still at a very nascent stage of evolution of e-mobility in India. I see the initial models of e-vehicles that have entered the market only as test cases where the OEM is testing the water and trying to understand all the challenges before a full launch. However, I see the scenario changing rapidly from the second half of 2019.”

Awadhesh Jha, Vice President, Charge, Drive and Sustainability, Fortum India Pvt Ltd. says, “I would consider that in India it is at an early stage where innovators are the main customers of EV. As more and more countries are adopting EVs, India, being globally connected economy, will reap the benefits of global adoption and will reach to a majority stage in shorter span than other countries as Indian customers will form part of early majority in terms of global market.”

Battery technology status of the industry
With the impending trend in the requirement of electric vehicles, the government is exploring various battery technologies. However, they are looking for polymer-based solid batteries that would cut down the dependency on lithium or cobalt imports. Cutting down the imported lithium batteries would cater growth opportunities for companies to have localised lithium battery plants in India.

Sreenath pegs a few fundamental points for battery charging requirement. He says, “The task of achieving the target by 2025 is an ambitious vision. To achieve these, issues such as cost of the vehicle, range anxiety, charging infrastructure need to be addressed effectively. Further interoperability among different manufacturers is critical which can be addressed by having standards in place. But as on date though there are many 2W manufacturers the concerned standard body is yet to formulate the applicable standard.”

On the purview of the same, Dr. Markandeya emphasises on improvising the battery qualities. He says, “Current lithium ION batteries take hours to charge and degrade at humid temperatures. Moreover, they are fire-friendly and are hard to dispose. Also, they have their own environmental challenges. So, having a safer instant-charging battery technology. We, at SHADO Group, have pioneered by introducing ultra-capacitors, in our recently launched ERICK three-wheelers.

Terming range anxiety as one of the key obstacles faced by the electric vehicle industry, Chopra says, “A limited driving range causes the range anxiety, a fear that the vehicle will run out of charge. In such situation, the user won’t have a charging station nearby, even if the charging station is nearby then also the user might not want to sit around and wait for 2-3 hours to charge his vehicle. To overcome this challenge – I suggest- equipping the vehicle with a range extender (on-board rescue-device like a generator/engine) – making it a PHEV plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Then a lot of charging stations in the city are not required. A few will do just fine.”

Vaart, on the other hand, mentions of having standard connectors for EVs and says, “A lot of the electric 2 and 3 wheelers today, still run on lead acid batteries, with no standard connectors for charging, unlike electric cars and buses. Government intervention is the core requirement to introduce the necessary standardisations for the 2 and 3 wheeler market in regards to charging connectors, battery swapping and battery chemistry.”
Exploring about the ultra-capacitor batteries, Dr. Markandeya highlighted about their product and said, “We use ultra-capacitor batteries and an indigenously developed electric powertrain, consisting of a low voltage motor integrated with differential and a liquid-cooled motor controller delivering extreme torque even at low speeds. Due to the speed of charging that we achieve us need to ensure the rate of energy is managed safely and properly, hence we have our own charging strategy, cell balancing and distribution management system and use of safer cell technology in ultra-capacitors.”

Unlike oil and CNG, this has interdependency on battery and electricity. An appropriate communication is needed between battery and charger and charge and grid to ensure safety and reliability to vehicle and grid. This necessitates that charging infra must be smart. This would also warrant smart grid. Jha says, “What is needed is greater and urgent push for upgradation and strengthening of electricity infrastructure along with charging infra. India would require adding lakhs of charging points year on year if all vehicles are sold on electric in future.”

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