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Are lithium-ion batteries sustainable in the Indian heat, or should we/are we looking at alternatives?

Is lithium-ion batteries sustainable in the Indian heat

Lithium-ion batteries are strong, light, and have a high energy density. They provide power to our laptops and cell phones and are becoming a vital storage source for electric vehicles as well. The key reason for the switch to electric vehicles is a viable decision made by manufacturers due to the economic and environmental benefits. 

In addition, growth in the lithium-ion battery sector is expected to encourage recycling innovation, ensuring that these batteries are produced in the most environmentally responsible way possible. Batteries are a one-time investment expenditure for EVs that serve as an asset (with the potential for additional revenue streams through secondary use in stationary applications in India) instead of continual running expenses for gasoline or diesel vehicles. 

Every lithium-ion  battery purchased will reduce oil imports for many years, boosting the trade balance and reducing India's vulnerability to oil price shocks. Compared to other available battery technology, lithium-ion batteries are regarded as one of the most stable sources of power and energy storage, which require the least charging time and minor maintenance. Furthermore, lithium-ion cells have a substantially lower self-discharge role than any other rechargeable cell. Therefore, the urgent requirement is to develop and manufacture long-lasting battery technology and the necessary infrastructure support.

The Lithium-ion battery market in India is still at a nascent stage. It lacks the requisite infrastructure and technology to support the production of Lithium-ion batteries and build awareness of the best practices for maintaining electric vehicles. The lack of native battery manufacturing resources is a barrier to developing EVs in India. Eight main raw minerals are required for lithium batteries, including nickel (Ni), cobalt (Co), graphite, copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), aluminum (Al), and titanium (Ti). 

India already has manganese, nickel, copper, and aluminum deposits. Imports currently meet the majority of India's lithium cell requirements. However, nearly all-electric vehicles in India rely on batteries supplied primarily from China which provides 96 per cent of India's lithium-ion cell and battery imports. 

So what we need to do for batteries is finalize our strategic sourcing. Currently, India lacks sufficient lithium reserves to manufacture lithium-ion batteries. Therefore, it is recommended that Indian lithium-ion battery manufacturers invest in mines and safeguard the raw material supply chain for the next few years. 

India is working on urban mining, keeping recycled materials in circulation and decreasing reliance on new lithium supplies which will help reduce the need for imports even further. The government is taking a positive step forward in this direction and has drafted policies and introduced initiatives like the (PLI) scheme, which incentivizes the production and storage of lithium-ion batteries and cells in the country, which is critical for the development of electric cars.

The sustainability of lithium-ion batteries needs to be emphasized, considering the frequent EV mishaps. The batteries used in India are imported from different countries, majorly from China. These batteries are manufactured as per the climate conditions in different countries. Since we cannot meet the standards of vehicle road conditions and do not modify the technology as per Indian climatic conditions, EV mishaps are frequent. 

Another reason is the inefficiency of manufacturing the main component of the lithium-ion batteries, a cell. We can't produce the basic unit of a battery, which is a cell, because there are no mines in India and there is no cobalt, nickel, manganese, or lithium. Therefore, India should look for other technologies for batteries. There is no sustainable substitute for lithium-ion batteries that Indian EV manufacturers can use. But what could help reduce these mishaps is standardization in manufacturing EVs, sustainable charging infrastructure and awareness about the usage of EVs in Indian climatic conditions. 

Government and manufacturers must collaborate to generate high-value battery components that local and foreign cell-manufacturing enterprises can use. First, however, India needs to assess its deposits for the presence of large-flake graphite content for graphite production. India has no other raw materials (Cobalt and Lithium) deposits. Therefore suitable preparations should be made to obtain ores or concentrates from other countries. Localized lithium-concentration processing benefits the battery industry in terms of dependability and purity since the purity of lithium raw materials is critical for long cycle life. Lithium battery manufacturers need to adopt cost-effective ways to recycle batteries which will become a step to help India move toward a circular economy.

Authored article by Vikrant Singh, Co-Founder, CTO, BatX Energies

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