- Some Bengaluru-based startups are innovating on solutions to develop efficient batteries for electric vehicles or recycle used batteries to reduce the carbon footprint of these batteries.
- Electric vehicle adoption is increasing in India and in Karnataka. Key components of electric vehicles are lithium ion batteries which are currently mostly imported.
- Several of these companies claim that due to paucity of organised markets for recycling and conventional methods, recycling of batteries remains a concern for the environment and public health.
As the popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) grows in India, there are concerns on the environmental impacts of the waste they could leave behind, highlighting the need for appropriate disposal and recycling of EV batteries and associated waste.
Some solutions are brewing in Bengaluru, long known as the information technology (IT) capital of India, where technocrats and startups, have, over the last few years, been developing innovations to reduce the carbon footprint as well as the hazardous impact on the environment and human health, of EVs and their waste.
One such effort is towards developing indigenous alternatives to the imported lithium-ion batteries, a key component of EVs. Akshay Singhal, Kartik Hajela and Pankaj Sharma came together in 2015 and co-founded Log9 Materials in Bengaluru. The startup earlier was involved in material science focussing on innovations in nanoparticles and Graphene materials. While Singhal and Hajela are alumni of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Roorkee, Sharma is a former scientist from IIT-Delhi.
The trio, through their venture, has developed a lithium-ion battery for EVs which uses the nano material lithium titanate (LTO) chemistry. This advanced battery, they say, has a shelf life of 15 years and can charge nine times faster and has nine times better performance than the standard Lithium-ion batteries.
“In India the lithium-ion batteries are used for EVs but they do not seem to be crafted for countries with hot climates like India. We started working on advance nano materials that could reduce the degradation of Li-ion cells during charge discharge cycles and by now have commercialised the LTO chemistry in the market. With lithium titanate nano particles, the batteries are charged in a very short time, last nine times longer than conventional batteries and also can withstand temperatures up to 230 degrees Celsius. The conventional lithium-ion batteries start degrading by anywhere between 60 degrees to 100 degrees,” Sharma told Mongabay-India.
Given that India does not have lithium supply, all the major components that go into the Li-ion cell manufacturing are currently imported. While they are producing their own cells, they also rely on imported cells for their batteries.
Log9 already has several clients, including EV manufacturers. Its LTO batteries are already commercialised for three-wheeler and four-wheeler vehicle categories. The company has also set up a 50 Megawatt hour (Mwh) commercial level lithium-ion cell production facility based on LTO technology and are commissioning their battery pack facility with a capacity of two Gigawatt hour (Gwh) battery production capability.
In India, as per union government data, there are 13,34,385 EVs on the roads. Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka are among the top three states in terms of EV numbers.
According to data from the Ministry of Road Transport, Karnataka currently has a total of 1,35,095 electric vehicles in total in different categories. Karnataka Electric Vehicle Policy also aims to ensure 100 percent electric mobility of auto rickshaws, corporate fleets, cab aggregators and school vans by 2030, hinting at a thrust to the EV sector in the state.
Reusing EV batteries
Poor disposal of end-of-life EV batteries – which often end up in landfills without scientific disposal – are hazardous to human health and the environment.
Another effort in Bengaluru, is to mitigate the quantum and effect of EV battery waste by reusing discarded batteries. Darshan Virupaksha is the co-founder of a Bengaluru-based battery startup called Nunam. The startup initially experimented with reuse of laptop batteries. Now, the team is working on reusing discarded batteries of electric vehicles for other electric energy needs, including for electricity needs in rural and low-income areas. The recycled batteries have so far been used to light up carts of street-side vendors, small shopkeepers and more as well as meeting some of the energy needs of a BSNL Telecom Tower at Jayanagar in Bengaluru. The recycled battery initiative has been funded by a Government of Karnataka grant which supported a pilot projects and has received further support from research and renewable energy organisations such as TERI (The Energy and Research Institute) and the Selco Foundation.
“EV batteries at end-of-life still have enough capacity to serve low demand applications for five years at least. Improper handling of discarded batteries will result in them being discarded in a landfill. We employ complex technologies to examine the remaining useful life and rebuild the batteries which cater to the power demands along with solar panels to several sectors such as cottage industries, small and medium scale industries and households. This intervention has huge potential with positive economic and environmental impact. We have started exploring new ways to expand its usage and reduce battery-wastes in India,” Virupaksha told Mongabay-India.
He said that rural parts of the country often use lead batteries in battery-powered appliances as electricity is erratic. These batteries are heavy and only around 60 percent of their potential can be used.
The lithium ion EV batteries, however, are lighter and 80 percent of their potential can be used. Employing such a circular economy model, he said, will help provide access to clean energy but also reduce imports from China while massively offsetting the carbon footprint of EV batteries in India.
Rechargeable lithium ion batteries, used in EVs and other sectors, are known to be good, durable storage systems for recharging options. However, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims that the lithium-ion batteries are hazardous and should not be mixed with household or recycle bins and it could cause fire during transport or at landfill/recycler sites.
Extracting urban battery wastes
Another Bengaluru-based startup, Metastable Materials, was founded by an IIT-Roorkee alumnus, Shubham Vishwakarma, in the light of increased battery wastes due to the rise of EVs in the country. Vishwakarma calls his company an urban mining company as it is involved in the extraction of valuable materials out of urban waste items like EV batteries.
The startup claims that 90 percent recovery of the crucial components of the batteries like copper, aluminium, cobalt, nickel, lithium and others make it into re-use by other industries, leading to reduced flow of battery wastes into waste sites in cities. The startup says it is using a patented technology to eliminate the use of chemicals and reduce the generation of waste in recycling of lithium-ion batteries that is allegedly done when using the conventional methods.
“We are not using any typical method of battery recycling and the unique processing is the USP of our work. We use our own patented Integrated Carbon Reduction technology in recycling the batteries. Usually in conventional recycling, the end product comes in a mixed chemical form whereas with our technology we bring the materials in the standard metallic format which could be directly used in the associated industries,” Saurav Goyal, Founding Member of Metastable told Mongabay-India.
“The whole idea is to make the recycling process sustainable and also target reduction of imports of materials used in making batteries. India does not have mines for lithium and cobalt. They are imported. So, if we are able to extract the same from these batteries and put these into re-use, we can help in reducing the imports too and also lead to less of these metals getting into dump yards of landfills and creating another problem for the society. If these batteries reach landfills and catch fire, they can engulf whole landfills creating another public health and environment hazard. So, it is important for the country to have urban mining companies like ours to ensure most efficient recycling of batteries,” he said.
The Ministry of Heavy Industries in the latest monsoon session of the Parliament also told the House that the Union government had been giving special incentives through Production Linked Subsidy for the promotion of Advanced Chemistry Cells (ACC) for EVs which includes lithium-ion batteries.
The NITI Aayog recently also batted for a battery swapping regime under which batteries could be used as a service for EVs from battery swapping stations on subscription or payment method which could reduce the time spent in charging at home or charging stations.
Banner image: The cell fabrication and assembly lab for tailored and optimized cell design and processes to churn out the best, reliable and sustainable cells. Photo from Log9.