Batteries are a crucial requirement for electric vehicles and minerals such as cobalt and lithium are crucial for making these batteries. Even as India is aggressively pushing for the faster adoption of electric vehicles, it lacks reserves of these crucial raw materials.
A recent study by the World Resources Institute has said that India should make adequate arrangements for procuring such minerals from other countries to ensure a smooth path for electric vehicle growth in the country.
Even though there is no national target for electric vehicles in the country, the government of India is increasingly pushing for policies to encourage a comprehensive eco-system that will encourage the use of electric vehicles.
These policies and initiatives span various central ministries, including the Department of Heavy Industries, NITI Aayog, Ministry of Power, Ministry of Urban Development, Ministry of Road Transportation and Highways and the Department of Science and Technology.
For instance, the FAME-II scheme (by the Department of Heavy Industries), which gives subsidies for electric vehicles and the Production Linked Incentive scheme by NITI Aayog, which subsidises the setting up of Li-ion cell-manufacturing gigafactories, are aimed at fast-tracking the transformation in the transportation sector. NITI Aayog plans to transition three-wheelers to fully electric vehicles by 2023 and two-wheelers with an engine capacity of less than 150cc to fully electric vehicles by 2025.
The study, on electric vehicle battery technology, noted the challenges in India’s demand for electric vehicles so far. These include the high initial cost of vehicles, lack of charging and maintenance infrastructure, and consumer perceptions around battery performance. It said limited domestic battery-manufacturing capabilities and a non-existent supply chain is a hurdle to building electric vehicles in India.
The good news, however, is that despite there being no national target, at least 15 states across the country have released detailed policies for encouraging electric vehicles.
“Several state governments, including Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Delhi, have also taken steps to further developments in this space. These state-led initiatives include various activities such as providing funding for setting up of Centers of Excellence for research and development, incubation centres for clean energy start-ups, tax exemptions for electric vehicles, promotion of skill development activities, adoption of e-buses for intracity public transportation, and setting up of charging infrastructure,” said the study.
It further emphasised that these initiatives are in different stages of planning, and some of them have already been launched but the “picture varies from state to state”.
Rare raw materials
According to the report, batteries require eight key raw materials including manganese, nickel, cobalt, copper, aluminium, graphite and titanium. It said that India has existing reserves of manganese, nickel, copper and aluminium.
“For these ores, an attempt should be made to produce high-value battery components that local and international cell-manufacturing companies can use,” the study noted. “In the case of graphite, existing reserves should be evaluated for the availability of large-flake graphite content … India has no reserves of the other raw materials (cobalt and lithium), and for these, adequate arrangements for procuring ores or concentrates from other countries should be made.”
“Localised processing of lithium concentrates is beneficial for the battery industry from a reliability and purity perspective,” the study noted. “Purity of lithium raw materials is crucial for achieving long cycle life.”
While talking about the lack of access to necessary raw materials as an obstacle, Anil Dasgupta, who is the President and the Chief Executive Officer of the World Resources Institute, said in the report, “Resource availability could be a significant constraint in the future.”
“For the raw materials that India lacks, locking in arrangements now to procure ores or concentrates from other countries in the future would be extremely advantageous,” said Dasgupta in the report. “Additionally, the early creation of a closed recycling loop, where all materials that go into a battery are re-used at the end of its life, can enhance resource security while creating a sustainable battery life cycle.”
The report suggested that infrastructure for recycling Li-ion batteries should be set up in parallel with the development of Gigafactories and other battery-industry-related efforts.
“Recycled batteries from electric vehicles will become a prominent source of raw materials via urban mining,” the study said. “The initial setups could be in the form of pilot plants for recycling small volumes of Li-ion batteries. These can be great tools for skill development and for recycling process optimisation. Refurbishment centres could also be established prior to recycling to enable second life use in stationary applications.”
Rahul Lamba, who is the founder of The Energy Company, a company that is working on the development of batteries, said, currently, India is in the same position as it was in 2010 when the mobile phone industry witnessed huge growth. “Right now, we know that the electric vehicle market is set for huge growth … so to avoid old mistakes we should have a clear focus on battery development,” Lamba said.
“India does not have raw materials,” Lamba told Mongabay-India. “For batteries, what we need to do is to finalise strategic sourcing. What the Indian companies need to do is invest in mines and secure the supply chain of raw materials for the next 15-20 years.”
“Efforts are already being made towards this,” Lamba said. “In addition to batteries, we need to focus on motors as well, which is another crucial component in electric vehicles. Motors require rare earth elements and we have resources of such minerals.”
He also highlighted that Indian companies need to focus on increasing the budget for research and development to make rapid advances in battery technologies. “We need to ensure that the products being used in India suit the Indian climate because it is quite different from the one in the countries where such battery technologies are being developed.”
The study, meanwhile, also stressed on the importance of encouraging research and development in battery development. It said a “strong and mutually beneficial collaboration between industry and academia is needed to develop advanced technologies in India”.
“Many of the innovations created in universities and research institutes are not able to move to the next stage of the development phase,” it recommended. “A healthy network of incubation centres and centres of excellence can help bridge the gap between industry and academia and foster the creation of a new start-up ecosystem in the field of clean energy technologies.”
It also said that central and state governments have to take various measures and help create an ideal environment so that India can attract next-generation technologies from the global research and development community as well.
The study suggested that “acquiring technologies for recycling batteries should also be given prominence along with the actual storage technologies” while noting that skill development in the space of Li-ion cell manufacturing will be critical for supporting large-scale manufacturing.
This article first appeared on Mongabay.