Electric vehicles have been witnessing a surge in demand and sales around the world. Keeping pace with that, several automakers are launching new models in the space in various forms.
EVs, to be specific, battery-powered electric vehicles or BEVs are not in the realm of could be or should be. It is a reality. In fact, the humungous reality is touted to be the one that will shape the tomorrow of humankind!
Hopefully, it will. It may or it might not. But there seems to be no turning back. There are close to 17 million…yes, 1,70,00,000 BEV Cars on roads across the road by the end of the year 2021. Worldwide, the BEVs have now reached double-digits in terms of Share…yes, 10% of the total car sales!
However, as per International Energy Agency (IEA), ‘ensuring future growth will demand greater efforts to diversify battery manufacturing and critical mineral supplies to reduce the risks of bottlenecks and price rises.’
A growing number of countries have highly ambitious vehicle electrification targets for the coming decades, and many carmakers have plans to electrify their fleets that go beyond policy targets. India in particular has rather audacious plans. The government of India for instance has approved Phase-II of the FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles) Scheme with an outlay of Rs. 10,000 Crore for a period of 3 years commencing from 1st April 2019.
Out of total budgetary support, about 86 per cent of the fund has been allocated for Demand Incentive so as to create demand for xEVs in the country. This phase aims to generate demand by way of supporting 7000 e-Buses, 5,00,000 e-3 Wheelers, 55.000 e-4 Wheeler Passenger Cars (including Strong Hybrid) and 10,00,000 e-2 Wheelers. However, depending upon the off-take of different categories of xEVs, these numbers may vary as the provision has been made for inter as well as intra-segment-wise fungibility.
However, as the IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said, “Policy makers, industry executives and investors need to be highly vigilant and resourceful in order to reduce the risks of supply disruptions and ensure sustainable supplies of critical minerals. Under its new Ministerial mandate, the IEA is working with governments around the world on how to strategically manage resources of critical minerals that are needed for electric vehicles and other key clean energy technologies.”
The greatest obstacles to continued strong EV sales are soaring prices for some critical minerals essential for battery manufacturing, as well as supply chain disruptions caused by Russia’s attack on Ukraine and by continued Covid-19 lockdowns in some parts of China. In the longer term, greater efforts are needed to roll out enough charging infrastructure to service the expected growth in electric car sales, the IEA report says
In fact, the IEA report said, and I quote:
“The data shows a looming mismatch between the world’s strengthened climate ambitions and the availability of critical minerals.”
Prices for Lithium, a crucial mineral for car batteries, were over seven times higher in May 2022 than at the start of 2021, in just about a year! Prices for Cobalt and Nickel also rose. Everything being equal, the cost of battery packs could increase by 15% if these prices stay around current levels, which would reverse several years of declines. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has created further pressures since Russia supplies 20% of global battery-grade Nickel.
Apart from Costs, there’s the spectre of geopolitics. Governments in Europe and in the United States have promoted industrial policies aimed at the domestic development of EV supply chains, as more than half of all Lithium, Cobalt and Graphite, the key minerals for Batteries, processing and refining capacity are located in China.
In addition, China produces three-quarters of all lithium-ion batteries and has 70% of the production capacity for cathodes and 85% for anodes, both of which are essential components of batteries. More than half of all-electric cars in 2021 were assembled in China…but, as we speak, USA and China are already head-to-head over Taiwan! India and China don’t go eye-to-eye, and it just goes on….
However, all of this frantic activity is still not enough! For a scenario to be aligned with the climate pledges and targets announced to date by countries worldwide – and to 25% by 2030 in the IEA’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario! While the world is hot on the heels of EVs, the Earth is getting hotter. As if Carbon emissions were not enough of a threat looming large, we seem to be raising a monster called EVs in order to challenge the monster called Carbon Emission!
Coal-burning and its disastrous emissions; ecologically and socially unethical and unsustainable practices in extracting the rare minerals required for EV Battery; Soil and water Poisoning due to the EV Batteries which are and would get discarded in massive numbers, etc. are posing serious questions and challenges to EVs juggernaut.
It is in this scenario that we need to understand the EV space a little better. EVs or BEVs in particular, gained traction just about ten years back. Battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs) have become the primary focus of the automotive industry with the introduction of the Nissan Leaf in 2010 and the Tesla Model S in 2012.
BEVs however, are not the only solution for decarbonizing transportation. Within the EV space itself, there’s Hydrogen Fuel Cell or Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV). Noteworthy that as we read this piece, India’s leading two-wheeler maker. TVS Motors has filed patents for TVS iQube, an electric scooter that would use hydrogen fuel cells!
Simply put, an FCEV is an EV that draws power from a Hydrogen fuel cell. Hydrogen, stored in a sealed tank, is the ‘fuel’ that the fuel cell uses to generate energy from the reaction between the hydrogen and atmospheric oxygen in the air. The energy released is stored in a battery that’s much smaller in capacity than a BEV battery, and the only by-product or tail-pipe emission is clean water.
The two key differences between BEVs and FCEVs, or the two key advantages of the latter over the former are:
- The size of the Battery
- The Re-fuelling time
Firstly, In an FCEV, the battery is smaller because it’s not the primary power source. For instance, the Tesla Model S Battery contains 7,920 lithium-ion cells, while the Toyota Mirai FCEV contains 330. So, other than the Re-fuelling time, FCEVs can be made lighter than electric cars with similar range outputs. A Toyota Mirai only needs a 1.24kWh battery pack and 5.6kg of hydrogen to achieve the same range as a Tesla Model S. The Tesla model has a much larger 100kWh battery pack that weighs roughly over ten times that of the Mirai! Also, both the Efficiency on the wheels and Range for FCEVs are lower as compared to BEVs.
The primary and the key challenge or the disadvantage for FCEVs is actually the Hydrogen itself. Both in terms of Production of Hydrogen and also the Distribution.
There are three kinds of Hydrogen gas, named to denote in fact the carbon footprint one can use to fuel an FCEV, viz., Grey, Blue and Green.
Grey Hydrogen is made from Natural Gas and leads to CO2 emissions. It forms around 95 per cent of H2 gas produced globally. Blue Hydrogen, too, is made using non-renewable resources but in processes that release relatively less carbon dioxide into the environment. The cleanest, obviously, is Green Hydrogen, or hydrogen that’s made from renewable sources with little to no carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
In India, Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has cited sewage as one of the potential sources of Hydrogen. Green Hydrogen, to be specific as Sewage isn’t some natural resource that would deplete with usage. Hydrogen from sewage could potentially provide an incentive to expand the sewage network and encourage sewage treatment across the country.
Management of Sewage is a grave challenge for India, it could be a major reason for India to promote FCEVs. However, Hydrogen is usually produced in small amounts from Sewage treatment; the majority of electricity production in the country comes from coal, leading to major carbon emissions; and from natural gas which is in short supply and actually nearly half of India’s requirement of Natural Gas is imported.
At the same time, in terms of Distribution, Hydrogen distribution leads to a carbon footprint, apart from being a logistics & cost-heavy aspect. While on the other hand, Electricity Grid is all-pervasive, already. The lifetime carbon footprint of BEVs is comparable to FCEVs. Of course, both FCEVs and BEVs produce lower lifetime emissions than ICE vehicles.
Interestingly, the first FCEV came into being almost 60 years back. GM launched the first FCEV, Chevrolet Electrovan way back in 1966. But, as compared to about 1,70,00,000 BEVs, there are only about 50,000 FCEVs on the roads. Seemingly, that’s a number not even worth talking about!
It is all not so simple! After all, if there are about 17 million BEVs, there are about 15 million CNG-powered vehicles on roads, as well. So?
So, if some focus and effort are brought to FCEVs, the issues around FCEVs or Hydrogen Gas to be precise can be mitigated. The CNG Logistics and Grid can be used for Hydrogen Gas, for instance. As the volume goes up, the costs for production would come down; and various innovations & improvements in Tech and all other aspects, like it’s been happening at a maddening pace around Batteries for BEVs, would emerge & evolve. The issue around Efficiency and Range can also be mitigated. India is already talking about blending Hydrogen with CNG. Union Govt of India has already proposed setting up of a National Hydrogen Energy Mission, which may mandate fertilizer, steel and petrochemicals industries to shift to Green Hydrogen.
“Efforts are underway to leverage the vast CNG pipeline infrastructure to reduce the transportation cost of hydrogen” Dharmendra Pradhan, the Union Minister for Petroleum & Natural Gas said while addressing a roundtable titled, Hydrogen Economy: New Delhi Dialogue—2021. Giants like NTPC, Indian Oil and Adani are already working on setting up Green Hydrogen Plants.
If pristine Green Earth and not Vehicle-Tech were to be the end goal!
We don’t have to abandon BEVs and/or replace BEVs with FCEVs. We don’t even have to abandon ICE Vehicles! From the Mobility perspective and from the perspective of Economics & Ecology, a Hybrid Scenario and/or 360degree Solution Orientation is perhaps the best foot…or the best pedal, forward! We could have a blend of ICE, BEVs, FCEVs, CNG, ICE-Hybrid, and CNG-Hybrid Vehicles, for instance.
- With the requirement of a much smaller Battery pack, FCEVs would drastically reduce the damage to the Earth and the pressure on supply chains, costs and the dependence on one or two countries in terms of Minerals and in terms of Battery production.
- Carbon footprint due to the burning of Coal for Electricity would come down.
- CNG vehicles would get cleaner in terms of emission. India already has a reasonable fleet of CNG-powered Passenger & Goods transport on the roads, and we can continue to run the same.
- Hybrid ICE Vehicles, with Hydrogen + Fossil Fuel, is a technology already not so uncommon for cars. Worldwide, Hydrogen-ICE Hybrids and CNG-ICE Hybrids would help in moving towards Greener Tomorrow, faster, efficaciously, conveniently and cheaper.
- It would be a positive for countries with Economies dependent on Fossil fuels, like the Gulf, Latin America and even the US of A!
- For India and in fact, various other countries, the cesspool of Sewage & waste would get cleaner a bit!
So, as there are journeys in Life, there are avatars of EVs! Did I hear someone say, why so much fuss? Lets’s Cycle dude!!!
Also Read: Electric vehicle: For a new world, go back to the old world!
(Sanjeev Shukla is a corporate strategy and marketing leader with three decades of experience with Hyundai, Hero MotoCorp, Ford and the advertising world.)
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Autofintechs.com. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)