India’s “Atmanirbhar” Mission
India has set out on a grand mission to become “self-reliant” or “Atmanirbhar”. This is of significant relevance especially in the battery industry, for which India is heavily dependent on China. China has a near-monopoly on lithium-ion batteries, which accounts for 70% of the cost of two-wheelers and 50% of cars. Reports suggest that most of India’s work on lithium-ion batteries is still focused on R&D,. In the private sector, companies are primarily building battery packs with lithium-ion cells imported from China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam.
A noteworthy step that could bring down battery imports from China would be a recent move by NITI Aayog to seek Cabinet approval for a proposal to build up to ten large battery manufacturing factories in India. These would receive subsidies to produce lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles (EVs). However, India would still risk depending on raw material imports from China and other countries. This is because most of the supply chain for the components of the lithium-ion battery is controlled by China, whose lithium reserves are 30 times those of the United States.
Lithium Ion or Sodium Ion ?
Lithium-ion batteries also contain toxic substances like cobalt and graphite, and other rare minerals such as manganese and nickel, which are difficult to mine. Nearly 72% of the world’s reserves of cobalt are in the Democratic Republic of Congo and these are largely owned by China. Cobalt mining in this region is also infamous for several unscrupulous practices such as child labor. Therefore, the component parts of the lithium-ion battery pose a huge challenge in terms of supply chain and sustainability.
The other commonly used lead-acid batteries offer lower performance and contain lead, a toxic material. Despite being low-cost, these batteries are bulky and therefore not as suitable for EVs.
While some companies such as Faradion have developed sustainable alternatives that are increasingly in favour in India, with some exciting upcoming developments. In June 2020, UK-based Faradion, a pioneer in sodium-ion battery technology, announced a partnership with Indian company Infraprime Logistics Technologies (IPLTech) for its high energy sodium-ion batteries for use in commercial vehicles in the Indian market.
Sodium-ion batteries do not use problematic components such as cobalt, lead, or lithium and are a much cleaner and safer alternative to lithium-ion batteries. New battery technology such as these, for which the raw material sodium is easily available in India, fit neatly into our Hon’ble PM Modi’s vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat.
India can achieve its goal of becoming not only self-reliant in the batteries’ sector, but a world-leader. To do so, it needs a strategic plan that includes: reduced dependency on China; encouraging R&D in the country to explore alternatives to cobalt; exploring credible and sustainable alternatives such as sodium-ion; ensuring upskilling of the workforce in the battery manufacturing space; and providing incentives to local manufacturers. “We look forward to helping India realise that goal”.
James Quinn is the CEO of Faradion. He is an international technology executive and entrepreneur, with a background in both publicly traded and private companies. A proven technology products executive with over 25 years’ broad-based experience in systems and services, including product development of leading-edge technologies through the global supply chain, manufacturing, distribution, and licensing.
About Faradion Ltd
Faradion is the world leader in Sodium-ion battery technology that provides low cost, high performance, safe and sustainable energy. Its proprietary technology delivers leading-edge, cost effective solutions for a broad range of applications; including mobility, energy storage, back-up power, and energy in remote locations: www.faradion.co.uk.
Infraprime Logistics Technologies (IPLTech) is a Gurgaon-based startup that is halving the cost of infrastructure development through an electric fleet complemented by a data layer organizing thousands of small fleet operators: infraprimelogistics.com.