Cross-Sectoral Collaborations Pivotal for a Robust EV Battery Ecosystem in India

Both legacy companies and start-ups, operating in the battery manufacturing sphere, are currently grappling with accessing the required data and technology, which is key to developing a strong BMS. Furthermore, they are also in need of expert staff and need to develop strong in-house software and hardware along with the setting up of a validation ecosystem.

January 09, 2023. By News Bureau

India submitted its Long-Term Low Emission Development Strategy to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), during the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27). Salient features of the strategy include enhancing energy security, a just and equitable transition from fossil fuels, and the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) with a strong focus on public transport and freight.

The battery accounts for up to 50% of an EV’s total cost. The battery cost share differs by segment and range, and is integral to the effective performance and safety of the vehicle. While batteries will power the increasing number of EVs anticipated on Indian roads, they are also required in the renewable energy (RE) sector to address its intermittent nature. They find uptake, in the RE sector, in stationary storage applications such as ‘behind the meter’ applications, consumer electronics etc.

The industry is facing a gamut of challenges
Electric two- and three-wheelers (e-2Ws and e-3Ws) – which enjoy the highest penetration rates (> 80%) in India – come with concise battery packs that need to be economical, efficient, and safe. With rising demand, many Indian EV companies are looking at expanding their domestic manufacturing base to improve performance, by reforming parameters such as energy density, drive range, charging rate, and thermal endurance. These companies also intend to address the rampant bottlenecks in manufacturing processes by streamlining material availability, and recyclability, to minimize environmental impact.

The reform of all of these parameters requires a solid research and development (R&D) ecosystem across different technology readiness levels (TRL). This requires active collaborations among key stakeholders – namely the industry, academia, and government – so that they optimally leverage each other’s strengths to expedite solutions to critical market problems.

One of the major challenges for EVs is the safety and performance of batteries in extreme weather conditions. When operating under non-optimal conditions, such as in tropical climatic zones like India, the most commonly used EV battery technology (lithium-ion batteries (LIBs)) often undergo degradation of performance and irreversible structural changes in the electrode material that can lead to battery damage, temperature rise, short-circuit and cycle life loss.

To minimize such damages and address recurring fire accidents (as reported in recent months), the Battery Management System (BMS) – an electronic system connected to the cells of the LIBs – can monitor and regulate the state of charge, health, voltage, and current. It is one of the most crucial components of a battery, ensuring the safety of the battery pack and the EV. Currently, the majority of the e-2Ws are equipped with passive BMS – i.e. excess energy is dissipated as heat. Very few e-3W have active BMS that conserve excess energy in the battery pack.

Collaboration for EV Battery: OpenSource BMS
Globally, manufacturing companies like Panasonic, Build your Dreams (BYD) and Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL) develop their respective proprietary BMS. Others, like FOX BMS (developed by Fraunhofer IISB), have been developed under an open-source platform. While these open-source BMS platforms provide better access to technology and algorithms, there are trade-offs between cost and features in these solutions since they often cater to a narrow range of operable conditions and EV segments. However, such platforms greatly benefit small-scale manufacturers and start-ups who lack the requisite data sets and technology. The Indian EV market, due to its price-sensitive nature, needs a BMS solution that is robust, cost-effective, and tailor-made for Indian operating conditions.

Both legacy companies and start-ups, operating in the battery manufacturing sphere, are currently grappling with accessing the required data and technology, which is key to developing a strong BMS. Furthermore, they are also in need of expert staff and need to develop strong in-house software and hardware along with the setting up of a validation ecosystem.

Consequently, they rely either on imported BMS options, which are not customised to Indian requirements, or opt for suboptimal alternate solutions, that either increase the cost of production or end up compromising the battery quality. Both routes add to the supply chain complexity and regulatory uncertainty. Private players, academia, and the government need to collaborate and come together, on to a common platform, to ensure timely solutions that also meet industry demands.

While the majority of the industry players in India lack the required R&D capabilities, Indian academic institutions like the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs), and government research organizations like Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) labs, Department of Science & Technology (DST), and public sector undertakings (PSUs), have good research infrastructure and also enjoy strong global recognition.

Forming a tripartite government-academia-industry collaboration can catalyze the efficiency of technology development and deployment. This will help in utilizing and disseminating technical expertise, to address critical industry challenges, and will also ensure relevant conversations at all levels of governance.

One such cross-sectoral collaborative effort is already taking shape with the ongoing development of a national open-source platform that serves as common ground for collaborative and expedited decision-making. Under this initiative, experts from the government (NITI Aayog, Department of Science & Technology, etc), think tanks (World Resources Institute India (WRI India)), academia (professors from IITs etc), and battery start-ups, along with other key industry players, are currently working on the development of an open-source BMS for e-2Ws and e-3Ws.

The success of this initiative depends on the active participation of the academia and industry and proper funding from various sources. Such collaborations can help in streamlining processes, address critical challenges, and facilitate healthy knowledge exchange that benefits the EV ecosystem in its entirety.

Way forward
With India strengthening its EV and energy storage markets, various established companies and start-ups are developing indigenous, cost-effective, and superior batteries that are safe and function efficiently in the Indian environment. To enable collaborative research, that fast-tracks the EV industry, we need to develop a strong framework. We should create mechanisms to show how such collaborations would work, including the value proposition for all partners, effective governance models, legal instruments, viable funding, and revenue mechanisms.

- Dr. Parveen Kumar, Sr. Program Manager-Electric Mobility, Cities Program, WRI India
- Randheer Singh, Director, E-mobility and Advanced Chemistry Cell Program, NITI Aayog
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