Last week, Log9 Materials—the battery-technology and deep-tech start-up—launched what it said is India’s first indigenous cell manufacturing line, in Bengaluru. With this facility—claimed to be the largest in Southeast Asia—Log9 Materials aims to achieve at least 50 MWh (megawatt-hour) of peak cell production capacity in one year. “At a time when majority cells and batteries used in India’s electric vehicles (EVs) are being imported, this development adds a new lease of life for the country’s mobility vision to turn to electric significantly by 2030,” says Kartik Hajela, co-founder & COO, Log9 Materials. In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, he also explains why some EVs caught fire recently. Excerpts:
What is the end-goal of the cell manufacturing plant you have started?
We aim to achieve at least 50 MWh of peak cell production capacity in one year, and then scale up to over 5 GWh in 3-5 years. Our cells have been designed ground-up in India, for India, and are best suited for Indian operating conditions, climate and customers.
But why a cell manufacturing plant in the first place?
An EV battery is made up of various components: cells, a cluster of cells that make up a module, and a cluster of modules that make up a battery pack. Then there is the battery management system (BMS). While BMS has been largely indigenised (semiconductors for sure are imported), the most basic component, i.e. the cell, is being imported.
In a regular battery, about 70% cost is that of the cell, and in an EV, 40-45% cost is that of the battery. So, the cell is the most expensive device in an EV, forming about 30-40% of an EV’s cost. We are now making that most expensive and most important device in India.
But there could be parts inside a cell that are imported…
For sure, lithium comes from outside India; the global lithium supply chain is primarily controlled by the Chinese. But other metals can be sourced from India.
Lithium is the most important element and is mostly imported. But manganese and aluminium are abundant in India. Nickel and cobalt are also used in cells, but these are usually imported so we are trying to not use these in our cells. While India is trying to find some local lithium resources, it is also talking to countries such as Australia that have huge resources and bilateral talks are taking place to source lithium from there.
Why did some EV batteries catch fire?
There are three reasons, and one is right at the cell level. A lot of EVs that caught fire had batteries with NMC (nickel, manganese, cobalt) as the chemistry; NMC can easily catch fire if the temperature in which the EV is being operated is high. In China and the US, where NMC chemistry is popular, the ambient temperature is 25-30 degree Celsius. In India, the ambient temperature can go as high as 45-50 degree Celsius. The answer is to shift to LFP (lithium, iron, phosphate) or LTO (lithium titanate) chemistry. Tesla also recently shifted its standard range vehicles to LFP. The second reason is very few EV companies in India have done research and development on their EVs, and most are just assembling in India by using parts from outside the country. BMS is the Holy Grail for EV safety and what if BMS fails? That may fail if enough real-world testing isn’t done. All EV companies need to do the ‘what if’ analysis.
The third reason is the way EVs are being charged. If you are charging at, say, a 1 kW connection and the electricity infrastructure is poor out there, it could be a fire hazard.