Innovations in battery chemistry is a must for India to become self-reliant in EV battery production

The global transport sector is making rapid strides towards electrification, with demand for electric vehicles steadily rising around the world. This brings with it a surge in demand for lithium ion batteries, the most important and expensive component of an electric vehicle, making up for 40 – 50% of the vehicle cost. This precious mineral is unevenly distributed on Earth, with 58% of the world’s reserves buried in Chile and 43% of rare Earth minerals like Cobalt and Nickel buried in China. As a result, most countries are heavily dependent on importing lithium ion batteries, which is cost and time intensive.

India has no known reserves for lithium or cobalt, and imports all its lithium ion battery requirements from China or Taiwan. In 2019-2020, India imported 450 million units of lithium ion batteries, for use in phones, laptops, smartwatches and EVs, valued at Rs 6,600 crores. By 2030, India would need 130 gWh of lithium ion batteries, which would cost its economy dearly. This dependence also leaves little control on the supply of these batteries, leading to shortage and disruption in production like India witnessed in October this year.

Therefore, innovations in the chemistry of EV batteries are an important aspect of building a conducive ecosystem for the smooth growth and sustainability of electric vehicles. India is already making progress in research and innovations in EV battery chemistry. In this article, we bring to you an overview of the different batteries in various stages of research, and their advantages over lithium-ion batteries:

  • Sodium ion batteries: Sodium ion batteries were first researched in the 1970s, but took a backseat to the growing interest in lithium-ion batteries. These are once again coming back into the limelight, with China leading the way in research and development. Sodium reserves in the Earth are 300 times higher than lithium, and more widespread, making them accessible and affordable. In India, several technology companies are trying their hand at producing sodium ion batteries. Faradion, the world’s largest producer of sodium ion batteries, has partnered with an Indian company, Infraprime logistics technologies, to produce these in country. In Pune, a new start-up, Sentient Labs, is also testing a proto-type.
  • Aluminum air batteries: India’s largest oil refiner, Indian Oil Corp, has teamed up with Phinergy Ltd, to develop aluminum based batteries that can power electric vehicles. India is among the top 10 bauxite producers in the world, a metal needed to produce aluminum, and therefore, would be able to bring down dependence on import. Aluminum air batteries would be cheaper than lithium, provide longer range to an EV and be safer to use and dispose. Mahindra has started testing these batteries on the Mahindra Treo 3W & Tata is testing them batteries on their buses.
  • Zinc air batteries: The Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, is working on creating a Zinc air battery, where the main fuel is Zinc. Its main advantage is cost – lithium ion batteries are produced at $ 270,300 per kWh. In comparison, if zinc batteries are produced at the same scale, they would cost just $30 – 40 per kWh! Apart from cost effectiveness, zinc batteries have better capacity for storing energy and longer shelf life.
  • Supercapacitor based: Designed by a Mumbai based start-up, this battery type has quick-charging capabilities, comes with a longer battery life than lithium-ion batteries, and is much lighter to carry around. Unlike conventional batteries, supercapacitors don’t rely on chemical reactions to produce energy. Instead, supercapacitors store potential energy electrostatically within them. This enables supercapacitors to maintain much longer lifespans than conventional batteries, which depletion of capacity over repeated charge and discharge cycles.