Policy think tank BridgeIndia organised ‘The Future of Batteries’ event in Delhi on November 25th, 2019. The discussions during the event primarily featured India’s need to be self-sufficient across the EV Value chain and initiatives to promote the adoption of Electric Vehicles.
At present, India’s electric vehicle industry is largely dependent on imports. Right from the Lithium-ion battery cells to the powertrain components, most of the ingredients of an EV are imported from other countries, mainly China. Batteries make up for 40-50% of the cost of an electric vehicle. Our dependence on battery imports, in part, ends up making the EVs considerably costlier than the ICE vehicles. Cost is the biggest barrier to EV adoption in a price-sensitive Indian market where 90% of two-wheelers that are sold cost less than Rs. 70,000 (USD 1,000) and 90% of the cars sold fall under Rs 7,00,000 (USD 10,000).
Battling the Battery Cost
Some would suggest a battery swapping model to remove the battery ownership cost from vehicle purchase and replacing it with a variable leasing cost. However, this approach seems impractical in the private vehicle space, as it would require a lot of standardization and leave batteries prone to misuse and ill-treatment.
In order to lower the cost of battery packs (and by effect the EV prices), India needs local manufacturing of lithium-ion battery cells. Though few companies are committing huge investments towards local manufacturing of Li-ion batteries in India, CEO of Hero Electric Sohinder Gill pointed out that –
To make the overall business proposition of Li-ion cell manufacturing attractive, we need to create a large market for energy storage systems (ESS).
Dr Ashvini Kumar – Senior Director, TERI presented his views on the issue and suggested that energy storage demand can be created through government policies. To cite an example, government incentives for domestic solar energy projects should be tied with the ESS installation. Further policy mandates can be made to implement ‘Time of Day’ metering to incentivise people to maximise the use of stored solar energy during peak hours.
Speaking on the market for energy storage, Anil Prakash – President of Telecom users group of India, in his address stated that Energy storage market in India is set to see a huge rise in demand in the coming years. Telecom, Data centres, IoT devices, Wi-fi hot spots, Power back up Inverters and Electric Vehicles applications are set to drive this growth. By 2025, India is expected to have 370 GWh of energy storage requirement, led by a surge in electric vehicles and inverters.
Alternate Battery Technology
The Team from Faradion – a UK based company that holds patents in Sodium-ion battery technology, introduced a different aspect to the discussion bringing the cost, long-term availability of raw materials and safety aspects into the picture. Lead-acid batteries currently hold a 70% market share of rechargeable batteries in India. James Quinn from Faradion said that India should explore the possibility of replacing heavy and low-performance lead-acid batteries with Sodium-ion batteries, which, they claim, can deliver the performance of Lithium-ion batteries the at the cost a Lead-acid battery.
Arguments presented by Faradion team for Na-ion batteries:
1. Energy security is a big part of the country’s overall energy strategy. For self-sufficiency, access to the raw materials required for battery development is a must. At present, China holds 60% of the Li-ion battery production, followed by Japan (17%) and Korea (15%). The raw materials supply chain for Lithium-ion batteries is controlled by China (65% graphite resources, investments in Cobalt mines and 3rd largest reserves of Lithium in the world). So even if India makes huge investments in setting up manufacturing facilities for Li-ion cells in India, we will still have to look outwards for obtaining the requisite raw materials.
This essentially means replacing the current crude oil dependence on the Middle East with raw material dependence on China and others.
On the other hand, Aluminium and Sodium required for Na-ion batteries are abundantly available in India.
2. Cost of raw materials – 80% of Li-ion cell cost comes from its raw materials that include expensive Copper and Cobalt. Raw materials required for Na-ion batteries are considerably cheaper and give a 30% cost advantage over Li-ion batteries.
3. Safety and Ease of Transport – Na-ion batteries can be discharged to 0 V without damaging the battery. This means transporting the batteries is safer and cheaper as compared to Li-ion. James revealed that the travelled to India by air with a fully discharged Na-ion battery (Made in China, at a Li-ion cell plant) in his carry-on.
4. Na-ion battery tech is built on Lithium experience and is an evolutionary step over Li-ion, as opposed to revolutionary technologies like Lithium-air or Lithium-Sulphur that still have a way longer time to market and will require expensive capital investments. Lithium-ion plants and equipment can be used for manufacturing of Na-ion batteries and thus achieve a faster time to market.
5. Na-ion is more resilient to misuse and mistreatment over Li-ion batteries and won’t require any major changes in the powertrain design. Can operate over a wider range of temperature (-30 to 60 Degrees C) than Li-ion batteries (-25 to 40 Degrees C), making Na-ion more suitable for Indian conditions.
The catch with Na-ion battery technology is that the technology is not as mature at present and has an energy density of 150 Wh/kg. Faradion expects to achieve a fully optimised cell design by Q4 2024, with an energy density of 250 Wh/kg.
Views from the Government Representatives
Another object of external dependence for India is magnets that make an integral part of the electric motors. Sajid Mubashir – Member R&D, National Automotive Board (NAB), informed that the government is trying to attract the businesses to manufacture the magnets locally.
Speaking on EV infra standards and roll out challenges in the country, Mr Mubashir acknowledged that opening a charging station is not a lucrative business opportunity at present. However, e-mobility can still take off if we can use the 16 Amp / 32 Amp sockets to create ubiquitous charging points to alleviate the charge anxiety associated with the EVs. To this end, there is a project in the pipeline to set up economical AC charging boxes at 50 mom and pop stores in Delhi and Bengaluru as a pilot.
Disclaimer: All the data points presented in the article have been reproduced from the speaker addresses at the event.