As India looks to bolster its electric vehicle (EV) penetration, their higher costs in comparison to conventional vehicles, lack of adequate charging infrastructure and the significant time taken to recharge still remain areas of concern. In this scenario, the battery-swapping system is being considered a promising alternative that has the potential to enhance the attractiveness of e-mobility by addressing both the market purchase price disparities and recharging time.

This alternative is also particularly relevant in the Indian e-mobility context, which is driven by the electric two-wheeler (2W) and three-wheeler (3W) vehicles. 2Ws account for 70-80% of all private vehicles in India, and 3Ws play a critical role for public transit, freight transport and last mile connectivity in cities.

According to a report, the Indian EV battery swapping market is estimated to have stood at $10.2 million in 2022, and it is expected to reach $61.57 million by 2030. That’s a growth at a CAGR of 25.20% between 2022 and 2030. The government has also said that it will announce a battery swapping policy to boost the use of EVs in the country in view of space constraints for setting up charging stations.

However, battery swapping also has its own set of challenges that includes establishing a standard for batteries, setting up a widespread network of battery swapping stations and raising consumer awareness of its benefits. As the sector is expected to grow exponentially, we ask battery swapping start-up Esmito co-founder Hasan Ali about the potential of the segment in India and its opportunities and challenges.

Fig 1: Battery-swapping system has the potential to enhance the attractiveness of e-mobility in India. (Photo Credit: Anushree Fadnavis)

Why battery swapping makes sense in India

There are two reasons why the battery swapping system is relevant in the Indian context, says Ali. Almost 85% of Indian vehicles are either 2Ws or 3Ws as cars compose roughly 15% of our overall user base. This means that 85% of the vehicles are small, which can use smaller systems that can decouple the battery. Consequently the batteries  will be lighter to carry or swap, he said.

“The car battery typically weighs 100 to 200 kg which cannot be swapped manually. But the smaller vehicles, which are the predominant type in the Indian market, are attuned towards swapping, in terms of the vehicle’s architecture,” he said during an interview to Clean Mobility Shift.

The other reason why battery swapping makes a lot of sense for the Indian customer is that 35% to 40% of the vehicles – both 2Ws and 3Ws combined – are being used for commercial purposes by fleet operators and last mile delivery persons.

A typical Swiggy driver drives for roughly around 120-130 km in a day which means for him, with his vehicle’s typical battery range of 70 to 80 km, swapping becomes essential. This is because he cannot afford to wait for three hours to charge his vehicle. Therefore, in this context, it makes a lot of sense that a person is able to swap the battery in a few seconds and continue with his job. “These two are the precise reasons why swapping, despite the lack of standardisation and other challenges, is growing at a rapid pace”, he says.

On why E3W penetration has been greater in India, Ali said that wherever there is a higher percentage of commercial applications in any segment, there has been a higher adoption.

Ali said Esmito is one of the very few companies that stands out due to its tech-first, swap solutions-provider approach. “What I mean is that we have a full stack of swap solutions- starting from our batteries to swap stations and the associated end user platforms. This has helped us to get a sizable share of the market,” he added.

Focus on promoting battery cell technology

A cell is the core of a battery system but research, development or commercialisation of cells and their production, which is the basic composite of the whole ecosystem, remains a challenge in India.

Ali argues that globally, countries like the US or China have dedicated government arms that are researching battery cell technology. “Also, there is a huge amount of government outlay and support to the private sector in terms of grants,” he said, adding that the subsidies in India were only geared towards adoption.

To emphasise the point, Ali argues that the government’s Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles in India (FAME II) also talks about adoption and targeting the demand side more rather than building the core infrastructure around EVs. There are bits and pieces of work happening in this sector but there is a need to develop the battery cell technology and scale it up in India.

Fig 2: A battery pack being inserted into a battery swapping station. Image credit: RACEnergy

Standardisation of batteries

Standardisation of batteries is a partly valid concern for propagation of battery swapping, he said. He uses the word partly because in commercial use cases where there is a closed loop application, the lack of standardisation doesn’t really impede growth.

“This is so because it's more a ‘demand backwards’ situation and the logistics or fleet operators only operate with a handful of OEMs. Since Esmito targets primarily commercial applications, we are able to overcome such issues. Also since we are also battery manufacturers, we also work very closely with vehicle OEMs to integrate our batteries with their vehicles,” he said.

Testing standards and certification

Battery swapping is growing at a rapid pace and there is a need to have testing standards for swapping stations. There are certain criteria that must be adhered to and that must be incorporated into a publicly-available document.

“Just like we had ISI certification and FSSAI certification for food items, there should be a similar certification for EVs as well,” he said. Ali says that there are incidents where safety standards have been compromised that can play a negative role as far as the adoption is concerned. Therefore, the government and the private sector should focus on certification and having regulations in place so that products can be developed accordingly”he said.

Environmental concerns

Concerns around environmental degradation are a broader issue that encompass the entire EV sector as each segment generates e-waste. Investments in technology are the need of the hour and a share of this must come from the OEMs.The recycling of batteries happens in two steps – first, the generation of black mass which pertains to only grinding and sorting the constituent metals, and the second is  where the individual metals — lithium, nickel, magnesium — are extracted from it.

“However, there is little investment on that side. Research and development is the need of the hour. Unfortunately it’s true for most companies today in India, including us, that we have not invested much, not anything in terms of the repurposing of batteries. However, the intent is there,” he said.