Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles in India (FAME) in its second iteration is a significant step forward, but for it to succeed investment should be directed at technologies that do not alter consumer experience.
This year, the Finance Minister has proposed to increase customs duty on import of electric vehicle (EV) across vehicle categories in the Union Budget. This will result in price rise since most manufacturers in India import lithium-ion cells, electric motors and controllers. The customs duty rise is in keeping with the aims of the scheme with the acronym FAME, manufacturing of EVs and hybrid vehicles in particular. FAME in its second iteration has kept lead-acid battery powered vehicles out of its ambit to nudge battery manufacturers to move up the value chain. Under the scheme, only vehicles which are powered by lithium-ion batteries or a more advanced power source can avail the Demand Incentive benefits (subsidy
). This is an opportunity to direct investment at technologies that do not alter consumer experience significantly, and where India has multiple advantages, rather than making heavy investment in charging infrastructure that could sooner than later turn into stranded assets due to the demand of consumer behaviour change. Innovations that restore consumer experience in terms of refuelling/battery replacement will reign supreme since refuelling currently takes only a few minutes whereas even fast charging could take about an hour. Moreover, the envisaged charging infrastructure could strain the electricity grid which in any case carries about 63 percent
of power generated by fossil-fuel based thermal power stations. While this will lower dependence on imported petroleum, it does not address CO2
emissions. On the contrary, large scale transition to EVs powered by electricity generated by thermal power stations could raise India’s emissions. EV transition based on lithium-ion batteries will also require additional investments in organised battery disposal and resource recovery facilities which as of now are nearly non-existent.
Refuelling of conventional vehicles currently takes only a few minutes, and fuel retailing facilities are available across the country. Why invest in new infrastructure when the extant set could suffice, provided refuelling/battery replacement takes about the same time as now? Investment should rather be directed at technologies that do not alter consumer experience. Electrochemical energy in the form of metal-air batteries (MABs) could be the choice of the future. MABs can match the driving range of conventional internal combustion engine vehicles and reload to full energy capacity in less than five minutes by replacing the metal anode. Compared to lithium-ion batteries MABs are cheap because the cathode source (oxygen from air) is abundant and the anode can be made using low-cost metal such as Aluminum or Zinc
. Incidentally, India was among the top 10 countries ahead of the United Kingdom, publishing the most journal articles related to metal-air batteries during the period, 2011 through 2018
. On technological knowledge, we are among the world leaders.
Strictly speaking, MABs are a cross between fuel cells and conventional batteries. Unlike the conventional batteries that carry oxygen within a heavy electrode, MABs utilize oxygen from the atmosphere at the cathode. These have higher energy density compared to lithium-ion batteries. The most abundant metal on Earth, Aluminium can be used as the anode of metal-air batteries. Aluminium can be recycled repeatedly without loss of inherent properties and the process requires only five per cent of energy compared to primary production
India has four per cent of global bauxite deposits, is a world leader in aluminium production, and exports the metal. Plant specific energy saving target set by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency for smelters under the Energy Conservation Act is making smelting less energy intensive. Recycling spent aluminium from metal-air batteries will not demand additional recycling capacity.
Aluminium-air systems can deliver higher energy per kg of aluminium; have a life of thousands of working hours; are non-explosive and can standby for years without losing performance
. Unlike lithium-ion batteries these systems are not rechargeable and do not consume electricity. Once the aluminium anode is exhausted by its reaction with atmospheric oxygen it needs replacement, and the spent aluminium anode can be recycled. India should not let these advantages pass due to path dependency. We should make use of electrochemical energy instead of fossil fuel based electricity for driving the EV transition.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.