It is a well-known fact that India is heavily dependent on imports for its energy storage needs, especially Lithium-ion batteries.
Li-ion battery manufacturing value chain comprises of multiple steps – from Mining and supply of battery-grade raw material to active material manufacturing or refining, Electrode manufacturing, Cell Manufacturing and Battery pack assembly that also includes manufacturing and integrating with BMS and thermal management systems before it reaches its end application.
There is value capture at each step of the process and in the absence of local raw material resources and cell manufacturing capability at the moment, indigenisation of battery technology is happening through battery pack assembly and local manufacturing of BMS and thermal management systems.
On these lines, we had a conversation with Rahul Raj, Co-founder of Delhi based battery technology company Inverted to understand the challenges with local manufacturing and how these challenges manifest when one goes about indigenising the Li-ion battery manufacturing process.
Inverted was co-founded in 2017 by three IIT classmates – Aditya Goel, Rahul Raj and Raghav Jain. After dabbling initially in product distribution for the solar industry and EV charger manufacturing, Inverted started working towards indigenisation of Li-ion battery technology in 2019. In the year 2020, Inverted managed to start its Li-ion battery manufacturing facility in New Delhi with a production capacity of 100 MWh and also launched its in-house made Battery Management System Ojas.
“We have been able to indigenise multiple components related to Electric Vehicles Batteries. The cost and quality are almost on par with imported components”, says Rahul Raj.
Road to indigenisation
Initial batches of Inverted battery packs were made in China.
“We used to stand and overlook every stage of the assembly process from 8 am in the morning to 12 am at night. We promised ourselves that we’d implement everything we were learning in this process and when we would start assembling our batteries in-house, we’d ensure the quality is at par with what we were importing,” said Rahul on a LinkedIn post shared by them some time ago.
Inverted team realised many of the companies that were importing Li-ion batteries were in the business without having a deep understanding of the technology, essentially just dealing with black boxes. In order to move from trading to manufacturing or to build self-reliance or do any meaningful innovation for the Indian market, a deep understanding of technology is required.
The founders took to the first principles to understand each step of the battery making process in order to learn the basics. Rahul also mentions going into self-study mode and attending online NPTEL lectures to form a solid foundation for their work.
Sharing their experience of working on their in-house BMS, the team studied the available BMS that are mostly imported from China by multiple companies.
One of the basic functions of a BMS is to estimate the State of Charge (SoC) of a battery pack. Kalman Filter algorithm is used to make the SoC estimate by observing the cell level data logged over time. The team found that some of the BMS available in the market did not even log cell level data.
Rahul adds, “It is extremely important to log the necessary data, use the right instruments to do so and perform the right analysis on the logged data to get things right”.
Discovering the ecosystem for ‘Making in India’
To design and make custom products, a strong and supportive ecosystem is required. The team faced challenges with finding metal fabricators, Nickel strip suppliers and sometimes right talent to build desired products.
“The journey to discover the ecosystem for making products in India is long, tiring and satisfying. Aditya and I started travelling across industrial belts of Alwar, Pali, Faridabad, Bhiwadi after we got some initial leads. We were pleasantly surprised to find very good equipment and high tech facilities in these areas”, says Rahul. Inverted intends to support and promote these lesser known businesses who have limited online presence.
Right now, Inverted is working on thermal management systems for batteries and also supporting battery research projects in IIT Delhi to encourage competency building in battery technology.
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