By Puneet Jain
India needs to have lithium-ion battery self-reliance in order to become a significant player in the global electric mobility map.
The battery of an Electronic Vehicle (EV) is its most crucial component. In India, EV sales have increased threefold to a total of 4,29,217 units in FY22: compared to 1,34,821 units from the year-ago period, according to the Federation of Automobile Dealer Association (FADA). Of this, the share of e-cars was only 17,802 units. This sharp rise in EVs across India has been led by the mission of Hon’ble PM Narendra Modi to make India a carbon-neutral country in a few decades.
Many private players have also come into the EV manufacturing scene over the years, and the government has also shown support by launching EV-friendly schemes/policies for both producers and consumers. Despite the rapid increase in EV manufacturing in India and its mass acceptance among consumers, there has been one recurrent challenge in its complete indigenous production, and that is a high dependency of EV manufacturers on external suppliers for the Li-ion battery primary used in the EVs.
At the heart of the supply constraint is surging global demand — and a definitive shift in favour of the EV powertrain in Western Europe and the US. Additionally, factors such as production curbs in China due to a shortage of coal-fired power and congestion in shipping routes have hurt supplies to India from its northern neighbour.
Another reason for the shortage is that manufacturers prefer supplying cells to markets that guarantee a higher volume of orders, like the US, Europe, and China which Indian EV makers do not guarantee. Shipping costs, too, have gone through the roof. According to some estimates, the cost of shipping from China has surged four times compared with this time last year. Companies have also resorted to flying in cells through air freight in some cases to overcome shortages.
In 2021, the Indian government introduced an INR 18,100 Cr Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for Advanced Chemistry Cell (ACC) battery storage, with a total manufacturing capacity of 50 GigaWatt Hour (GWh). In March this year, Reliance New Energy Solar, Ola Electric, Hyundai Global Motors, and Rajesh Exports were selected under the scheme. However, a considerable amount of capital and time will be needed to establish a 50GWh facility.
A plant of this scale is estimated to cost around INR 30,000 Cr ($4.6 Bn) and take about three years to build, as per a 2018 research report published by the Center for Study of Science Technology and Policy (CSTEP). The report also mentioned that an India-manufactured Li-ion battery is expected to cost INR 9,614/kWh ($148/kWh).
Many players in the automobile and energy space have started teaming up together and are finding synergies to roll out lithium-ion battery manufacturing units for EV applications. The latest advancement in lithium-ion batteries could make them ubiquitous, scientists add a specific polymer composite to the silicon anode of lithium-ion batteries, which significantly increases their lifetime. Many researchers are also developing aluminium-based battery technology that could replace lithium. Some of these even perform better than conventional batteries. Australian company Graphene Manufacturing Group (GMG) claims its aluminium-ion battery charges 60 times faster than conventional lithium-ion batteries.
The next few years will be both exciting and critical for India’s lithium-ion battery industry. The government has extended the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme for another two years, until March 31, 2024, and increased the subsidy for E2W to 1.5x. In addition, the government has limited FAME subsidies to lithium-ion batteries to promote them. The same consideration is given to government subsidies.
The incentives and subsidies in this space are reasonable and will be of much help, but we must look at separating EV battery incentives from that of the EV. Our Ev future can only be secured if our focus is right on battery technology, battery manufacturing, and battery supply chain. Lithium-Ion Batteries hold the Future of India in Mobility, Energy Storage, etc., which would further be complemented by companies who are focused and inclined towards the adoption and integration of new Advanced Technologies, such as Solid-State Lithium Batteries, through new and sophisticated manufacturing processes, which would offer flexibility and scalability.
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(Puneet Jain is the Founder of Natural Battery Technologies.)
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