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Breaking down the reasons why Indian electric vehicles require batteries made in India – Times of India

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Venkat Rajaraman, Founder & CEO of Cygni Energy.
India is on the verge of a major transformation and at the heart of it is the automobile industry, with electric vehicles (EVs) swiftly becoming the country’s favourite mode of transportation. EVs encompass a wide range of vehicles, including two-wheelers, three-wheelers (e-rickshaws and L5 loaders), four-wheelers, and electric buses. With the transition toward EVs being inevitable, it is important that certain automotive components, if not all, should be manufactured in India. India is currently reliant on neighbouring countries like China, Japan, and Korea for EV batteries, semiconductor components, battery management systems (BMS), magnets used in electric vehicle motors, and other electrical equipment. While the Indian government is urging local automotive manufacturers to switch to EVs, they must also recognise the writing on the wall and strive for a strategic place in the global value chain in order to diversify its supply routes away from the neighbouring countries. At a time when the Make in India initiative is pushing for a world-class manufacturing infrastructure in the country, it becomes imperative that this dependency on imports should not only be minimised but completely eliminated.
Uniquely Indian solutions are necessary
For India to become entirely self-reliant, manufacturing companies must come up with solutions that are unique to India. For instance, whatever design or battery management systems that work in China may not work here because of its distinctive weather and road conditions. EV batteries must be able to withstand not only rigorous driving conditions in the country but also the climatic conditions that has a massive effect on the range, safety, and performance of electric vehicles. Factors such as road vibrations, extreme temperatures, high humidity, rain, flood, and dust, among other such factors should be taken into consideration by Indian manufacturers.
The original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) must devote sufficient time and resources to make sure that the EV batteries are safe for commercial use. An extensive on-road durability testing over a longer period of time is required before beginning commercial production. In addition, a smart BMS must be mandated to regulate these external circumstances and ensure battery safety and performance. A thorough understanding of all of these aspects is extremely critical.
Why do we need an India-specific battery?
Electric vehicles run on lithium batteries, which, like people, do not enjoy extreme hot or cold temperatures. Anytime lithium batteries are taken out of their comfort zone, they risk performance and safety. However, India has an inherent advantage when it comes to lithium-ion batteries. India can be a world leader in both pack assembly and battery management systems (BMS) technology, due to its lower cost of assembly. BMS keeps track of the voltage, current, and temperature of the battery and adjusts the charging rate to maintain the needed constant current/constant voltage (CC/CV) charging profile. India’s strengths in software create huge opportunities in BMS Technology. The Li-ion battery packs are software intensive, with IoT and connectivity. While the cells are currently imported, we have an opportunity to put together a smart battery pack, which are tailored for Indian requirements. These layers of software can give unprecedented level of safety, reliability and performance.
When it comes to Li-Ion cells, various chemistries and compositions are available such as Nickel, Manganese and Cobalt or NMC, and also Nickel, Cobalt and Aluminium or NCA. NMC/NCA has Electric two-wheeler in India requires more energy density, thus NMC batteries are preferred. On the other hand, Lithium Ferro Phosphate, or LFP has a longer lifecycle but a lower energy density, is a preferred choice for three-wheelers. Lastly, Lithium-Titanium-Oxide, or LTO, is extremely robust but very expensive and is a popular choice for some specific applications.
However, there is no single chemistry that will suit all of India’s requirements. Most of India travels in two or three-wheelers, so there is not enough room for a sophisticated battery with advanced cooling mechanisms. The battery has to be modular in design so that it can be taken out and swapped with a new battery pack with ease. High range, fast charging, long lifespan, lightweight, safety, affordability, and replaceability are all of the factors to consider while determining the right chemistry and battery for the country’s electric vehicles.
India’s march toward self-reliance in e-mobility
The government recognises the fact that there is a market for EVs, solar-distributed renewable energy, telecommunication towers, and data centres in India. A PLI (Production-Linked Incentive) scheme with a budget of INR 18,100 crores has been approved for investments in Advanced Chemistry Cell (ACC) battery manufacturing. Additionally, FAME-II scheme (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles) has been granted INR 100 billion, for distribution as incentives for EV buyers.
Recently, the much anticipated draft policy on battery swapping was released by NITI Aayog. The policy aims to encourage large-scale EV adoption by supporting the use of battery swapping technology and fostering stakeholder engagement. The policy supports the OEMs sponsored by FAME-II or the ACC PLI scheme. However, at the moment, the policy only benefits high-speed charging for vehicles with a set minimum range, and not the lesser capacity or smaller ones. The policy fails to address the difference in GST treatment between batteries and EVs as well as the size standardisation for interoperability has been left open-ended. The amount of subsidy to the battery manufacturer needs to be worked out.
On a positive note, the policy places a strong emphasis on safety, security, and most importantly IoT enabled batteries for remote monitoring and real-time data collection. It establishes the need for smart BMS and monitoring systems since data analysis will play a significant role in the on-road deployment of these critical components in an EV. Despite the fact that more than 50%f BMS are imported, this policy will lead to the growth of local BMS and linked equipment. In addition, it requires all battery manufacturers to create a unique identification number (UIN) that will include the battery’s capacity, voltage, and all other pertinent information. These attributes will necessitate extensive technological development and deployment for the EV ecosystem in India.
Battery technology is at the centre of everything, as are the numerous intricacies that surround the technology and access to raw material and manufacture. A smart BMS will compute the state of charge and the health of the battery by measuring various parameters inside a battery, and comes with accurate, sophisticated algorithms for measuring the battery safety, reliability and performance. The BMS that are currently imported, provides very minimal protection and are not tailored for Indian conditions. The smart BMS also comes data-enabled (4G-enabled) so that it can provide not just protection but also monitor and control how the battery is performing under various conditions. Cell balancing is also critical for any battery management system because no two cells are the same from an electro-chemistry standpoint and hence good cell balancing is key for battery safety.
Therefore, to achieve the ambitious aspirations for the electric vehicle industry, India must completely ban the low-quality battery management systems, and all other low-quality components, that have been previously imported from neighbouring countries. In comparison to what is available in western applications, specific and differentiated solutions for India are a need of the hour. India also possesses local service, technology, and support, all of which will assist Indian manufacturers in scaling up faster than their global counterparts. In addition, due to government exemptions and subsidies, local manufacturers will also enjoy lower costs. These factors will assist India’s corporate sector in moving quicker toward the prime goal of producing adaptive and affordable batteries that are 100% safe. For Electric Vehicles safety should be paramount and all other parameters can take a backseat.
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Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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