The drive to indigenously develop lithium ion battery technology for automotive applications in India is on track and will be ready as early as mid-2017, say ARAI officials.
Local development of expensive lithium ion battery technology, specifically for automotive applications, got a boost when last year Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways, and his team of advisors initiated discussions with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
ISRO is known to have access to lithium ion technology for space applications, which, as experts say, are characterised by high-end specifications as compared to the ones suitable for automotive industry. ISRO and ARAI (Automotive Research Association of India) have been working on a joint project undertaken to develop lithium ion technology capability indigenously.
Talking exclusively to Autocar Professional in this context on the sidelines of the ongoing Automotive Testing Expo 2016 in Chennai, Mrs Rashmi Urdhwareshe, director, ARAI, said, “This is a joint project with ISRO. They already have access to lithium ion battery technology, which they use for space applications. For automotive, we would like to lower down the specifications as well as have it more suitable for the relevant duty cycles. This is our job. ISRO, on the other hand, has the right chemistry and technology that can translate into compact lithium ion battery systems.”
The automotive research authority has compiled a report with its inputs on suitable specifications required for automotive applications. These inputs are now shared with ISRO.
Disclosing the latest updates on this, Mrs Urdhwareshe added, “The next step would be to reduce the specifications, use indigenously developed materials and also to make it cost effective, which is our primary objective. This is what is being done now. It is a very promising project. About components that are used in the lithium ion batteries such as chemistry, packaging and other specifications related to energy density, we are working upon jointly. This was a complete one-year project of which 50-60 percent or 6 months are already over. We will be sending the final report to ISRO on which they will work upon and then they will submit us (the technology with) revised specifications.”
Prototype testing and validation by end-2016
ARAI expects to have the lithium ion cells (put together to form battery packs) with proper improvised automotive specifications from ISRO to run final prototype testing and validation processes by end-2016. These final stages may take a few months before the authority makes formal announcements.
“Yes, we will by then have the cells with relevant device specifications. We will then package these cells into battery packs using our own battery management system (BMS). We are developing our own BMS. We also have a target electric vehicle on which we will try the first actual locally developed (lithium ion) battery prototype. After these tests, we will be more confident in announcing the final product development and battery technology. It could be another year or so before it could even enter commercial production here,” stated the senior ARAI official.
The road ahead
This development clearly signals the readiness of the first ever indigenously developed lithium ion battery technology put together for automotive industry applications as early as the Q2 CY2017. ARAI will then scout for technology partners from the industry for proper technology sharing that will involve setting up a manufacturing facility and commercial production of automotive batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles.
Commenting on commercial production of lithium ion batteries in India, Mrs Urdhwareshe said: “Once the design is proven, we will look for a technology partner who can do the commercialisation because neither ISRO nor ARAI are organisations that can commercialise the production of products. So this would be done through incubation or other ways.”
Existing battery manufacturing companies such as Exide Industries, Amara Raja Batteries, HBL Power Systems, Base Corporation and others could be the potential players reviewing the prospects of venturing into Li-ion battery project for the automotive industry.
Industry experts, however, point out that while the local production will certainly bring down the costs associated with the lithium ion batteries, the demand forecast and the drive to create suitable infrastructure of charging stations across regions will solely dictate the willingness of private companies to make investments in this area.
The basic lithium ion cell prototypes being developed are suitable for small passenger cars. However, according to ARAI, these cells are capable of being integrated into larger battery packs for bigger or smaller vehicle types.