The source of power
Just like you need fuel to drive a conventional combustion engine, you need batteries to drive an electric motor. In the world of combustion engines, people have the choice of opting for petrol, diesel or CNG. Similarly, in the world of EVs, we have different battery technologies. Lead acid batteries have been doing duty in ICE vehicles to power the electronics and starter motor for a while. Bigger lead-acid batteries have also been used to drive electric vehicles but there is another technology that has been doing a better job in form of lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are more efficient, energy dense and lighter than conventional lead-acid batteries, making them a great upgrade for EVs.
Speaking to various people in the Indian automotive industry, it is clear that almost all parties are betting on lithium-ion batteries for powering EVs. “Compared to lead-acid batteries, they are far more efficient and can run for longer distances while requiring fewer replacements.”, said Pulkit Khurana, Co-Founder of Battery Smart.
The lithium boon
India has not had access to the raw materials needed to make lithium cells indigenously up until now. This resulted in materials being imported into the country and reliance on factors that are out of our control. All of this could change for the better with the recent discovery of lithium reserves in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. It could be a huge development in India’s electrification story and help achieve the goal of reaching zero emissions by the year 2070.
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Pankaj Gupta, CEO, Mufin Green Finance said, “This year kickstarted EV sector in the best way possible, firstly with the exemption on the lithium-ion battery from Custom duty in the Budget followed by the discovery of Lithium reserves found in the country.”
Elaborating more on the same matter, Mohal Lalbhai, Founder and CEO of Matter Group, said, “India’s recent discovery of lithium deposits is significantly important, with a potential quantity that puts India into the big league in terms of known reserves, which will help give Indian industry the big push towards accelerating the implementation of its EV and energy storage plans, both of which are closely aligned with the country’s push towards a carbon-free future.”
“The adoption of lithium-ion batteries in India’s EV industry is not just a matter of environmental sustainability but also presents a significant economic opportunity. The global lithium-ion battery market is expected to reach an estimated $215.9 billion by 2027, and India has the potential to become a major player in this market. The adoption of lithium-ion batteries will not only help India reduce its dependence on fossil fuels but also boost its economic growth by creating new jobs and industries.” said Dev Arora, CEO and Co-founder of Alt Mobility.
Making EVs affordable
With Make-in-India being at the forefront of industry practices, we have seen a lot of automobile manufacturers design, develop and manufacture their vehicles in the country. This has many positive effects on the economy of the country as it reduces import costs, reduces the cost of the final product, increases employment opportunities and encourages more exports as well. The discovery of lithium in India will allow EV makers to source localised batteries which will benefit the end user in the form of reduced costs. Right now, EVs do command a premium over ICE vehicles when you look at the initial cost of purchase and almost half of the cost or more is attributed to the battery. So, if the battery can become cheaper, EVs in general would become more affordable for the masses.
“A potential reduction in the price of lithium will enable greater democratisation and self-reliance of battery technology, with significant implications for the transportation and energy-related sectors.”, said Mohal Lalbhai.
What needs to be done
Every endeavour requires some solid steps to be taken in order to establish a strong footing and a stable future. According to Tushar Chhabhaya, Director, Aarya Automobiles, “The government would need to invest Rs 33,750 crore to reach its domestic lithium-ion battery manufacturing aim of establishing 50 GWh of lithium-ion cell and battery manufacturing units, according to the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW).”
Pulkit also raises a crucial point against the sustainability factor of mining lithium, “While the recent discovery of lithium is a significant milestone, it is crucial that the government takes the necessary environmental and geological measures to mine this resource in a responsible manner. Mining and refining of lithium-ion is still an industry that needs to evolve before we can materially benefit from the recent lithium reserve discovery. To maintain self-sufficiency, a circular economy must be developed for recycling used batteries and extracting the ground lithium and other metals for reproducing cells.”
An exercise in moderation
Not too long ago, we saw a massive shortage of semiconductors across the world. The pandemic forced everyone to work from home and increased the demand for computers and laptops. Making matters worse for chip supply was the fact that modern cars use a significantly higher number of chips. To top it all, the semiconductor fabrication industry could not function at its peak due to various lockdowns. All of these factors contributed to a huge bottleneck in the production of commodities and a sharp increase in prices as well. This was a prime example of resources not being able to meet the demand. A similar situation will have to be managed and avoided in the case of the lithium reserves in India. Pulkit agrees with this sentiment saying, “The strategic distribution of lithium among key industries must be implemented to bring India closer to achieving our goal of attaining net zero emissions by 2070. Given the ramp-up in demand, self-sufficiency is still 3-4 years away; unless India is able to strategically source raw material, which will allow us to drastically ramp up production after the initiation next year.”
Looking beyond lithium
Lithium-ion could just be an initial step in the process of electrification as the future could see the deployment of other kinds of battery technology as well. “We see lithium playing a major role for the next 5 to 10 years, along with other alternate battery technologies.”, said Uday Narang, Founder & Chairman, Omega Seiki Mobility. He also explained that Nickel-cadmium (NiCd), Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) and Solid-state are some other types of battery technologies that can be potentially employed in the automotive industry. Apart from these, elements like sodium and aluminium which are abundantly available are also being considered as potential battery solutions. Batteries using these materials will be cheaper to produce and be more efficient as well.
While lithium-ion looks like the most attractive option right now, the automotive industry has a habit of always innovating and evolving over the years. It would be interesting to see how the EV story develops in the coming years and what new horizons are explored in the process.
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