State-run Indian Oil Corp (IOC) is developing batteries based on indigenous metals to forestall dependence on lithium imports once electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable energy projects take off in a big way. IOC chairman Sanjiv Singh told ET that the metal-air batteries will produce energy by oxidising metals such as iron, zinc and aluminium.
These batteries cannot be recharged but motorists can replace plates to power them almost instantly, making it much more convenient for users and eliminating the need for charging infrastructure, he said. “A customer is not concerned how we make petrol if he can buy it wherever he wants.
Similarly, if he goes to a station and we replace the metal plates, he is not bothered because the whole thing happens within three minutes,” Singh said. The metal-air batteries have other advantages. “These batteries have high energy density. So,if a normal lithium-ion battery can travel the vehicle up to 300 km, these can take it to 500 km,” said Singh.
However, the cost effectiveness of this alternative will depend on the scale of operation.
Even though this technology eliminates the need of a charging infrastructure, it requires a whole business model to support refurbishment infrastructure. Themetal oxide can be reduced to a metal again, making the process recyclable.
“Rest of the battery including the air cathodes remain intact and there is no need to change them for at least eight years and after that the air cathode can be completed recycled,” said SSV Ramakumar, director-R&D at IOC. The Central Pollution Control Board, in a compliance report in 2016, acknowledged that India’s Batteries (Management and Handling) Rules 2001, under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, do not cover recycling of Li-ion batteries.
In case of metal batteries, both the production and recycling can be localised, which settles the concerns of import
costs and environment-friendliness. “If we are looking at future EVs on a countrywide scale, the biggest thing is dependence on import of raw material. So from oil import, we shift to lithium import dependence,” said Singh.
Data from the US Geological Survey shows that Australia, Argentina, China and Chile together account for 99% of lithium reserves in the world. These countries together produce 81,200 metric tonnes of lithium, which is 95% of the world’s production.
India’s requirement of lithium is expected to be 350,000 tonnes per year, according to automobile industry estimates. Although the government had in past tried to acquire mineral assets abroad, the efforts never yielded results. IOC plans to set up a 1GW plant for manufacturing metal-air batteries and is in talks with Hindalco to source aluminium for the purpose.
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