In the EV era, Bengaluru startups innovate for a more sustainable battery ecosystem

Innovation in sustainable battery infrastructure is key to EV adaptation in India. Bengaluru based companies show the way.
  • Some Bengaluru-based startups are innovating on solutions to develop efficient batteries for electric vehicles or recycle used batteries to reduce the carbon footprint of these batteries.
  • Electric vehicle adoption is increasing in India and in Karnataka. Key components of electric vehicles are lithium-ion batteries, which are currently mostly imported.
  • Several of these companies claim that due to the paucity of organised markets for recycling and conventional methods, recycling of batteries remains a concern for the environment and public health.

As the popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) grows in India, there are concerns about the environmental impacts of the waste they could leave behind, highlighting the need for appropriate disposal and recycling of EV batteries and associated waste.

Some solutions are brewing in Bengaluru, long known as the information technology (IT) capital of India, where technocrats and startups, have, over the last few years, been developing innovations to reduce the carbon footprint as well as the hazardous impact on the environment and human health of EVs and their waste.

One such effort is towards developing indigenous alternatives to imported lithium-ion batteries, a key component of EVs. Akshay Singhal, Kartik Hajela, and Pankaj Sharma came together in 2015 and co-founded Log9 Materials in Bengaluru. The startup was earlier involved in material science, focussing on innovations in nanoparticles and Graphene materials. While Singhal and Hajela are alumni of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Roorkee, Sharma is a former scientist from IIT-Delhi.

The trio, through their venture, has developed a lithium-ion battery for EVs, which uses the nanomaterial lithium titanate (LTO) chemistry. This advanced battery, they say, has a shelf life of 15 years and can charge nine times faster and has nine times better performance than the standard lithium-ion batteries.

“In India, lithium-ion batteries are used for EVs but they do not seem to be crafted for countries with hot climates like India. We started working on advanced nanomaterials that could reduce the degradation of Li-ion cells during charge-discharge cycles and by now have commercialised the LTO chemistry in the market. With lithium titanate nanoparticles, the batteries are charged in a very short time, last nine times longer than conventional batteries, and can withstand temperatures up to 230 degrees celsius. The conventional lithium-ion batteries start degrading by anywhere between 60 degrees to 100 degrees,” says Sharma.

Given that India does not have a lithium supply, all the major components that go into Li-ion cell manufacturing are currently imported. While they are producing their own cells, they also rely on imported cells for their batteries.

Log9 already has several clients, including EV manufacturers. Its LTO batteries are already commercialised for three-wheeler and four-wheeler vehicle categories. The company has also set up a 50 Megawatt hour (Mwh) commercial-level lithium-ion cell production facility based on LTO technology and is commissioning its battery pack facility with a capacity of two Gigawatt hour (Gwh) battery production capability.

Team members of Log9 Materials, which is based in Bengaluru, assembling EV batteries
Team members of Log9 during their cell assembly launch in Bengaluru. Pic courtesy: Log9.

In India, as per union government data, there are 13,34,385 EVs on the roads. Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Karnataka are among the top three states in terms of EV numbers.

According to data from the Ministry of Road Transport, Karnataka currently has a total of 1,35,095 electric vehicles in total in different categories. Karnataka Electric Vehicle Policy also aims to ensure 100 percent electric mobility of auto rickshaws, corporate fleets, cab aggregators, and school vans by 2030, hinting at a thrust to the EV sector in the state.

Read more: Guide to setting up Electric Vehicle Charging Stations in your community

Reusing EV batteries

Poor disposal of end-of-life EV batteries – which often end up in landfills without scientific disposal – is hazardous to human health and the environment.

Another effort in Bengaluru is to mitigate the quantum and effect of EV battery waste by reusing discarded batteries. Darshan Virupaksha is the co-founder of a Bengaluru-based battery startup called Nunam. The startup initially experimented with the reuse of laptop batteries. Now, the team is working on reusing discarded batteries of electric vehicles for other electric energy needs, including for electricity needs in rural and low-income areas.

The recycled batteries have so far been used to light up carts of street-side vendors, small shopkeepers, and more as well as meet some of the energy needs of a BSNL Telecom Tower at Jayanagar in Bengaluru. The recycled battery initiative has been funded by a Government of Karnataka grant, which supported pilot projects and has received further support from research and renewable energy organisations such as TERI (The Energy and Research Institute) and the Selco Foundation.

“EV batteries at end-of-life still have enough capacity to serve low-demand applications for five years at least. Improper handling of discarded batteries will result in them being discarded in a landfill. We employ complex technologies to examine the remaining useful life and rebuild the batteries, which cater to the power demands along with solar panels to several sectors such as cottage industries, small and medium scale industries and households. This intervention has huge potential with positive economic and environmental impact. We have started exploring new ways to expand its usage and reduce battery-wastes in India,” says Virupaksha.

fruit seller with recycled battery
.A small vendor using the recycled battery from Nunam for his lightning needs. Pic courtesy: Nunam

He said that rural parts of the country often use lead batteries in battery-powered appliances as electricity is erratic. These batteries are heavy and only around 60 % of their potential can be used.

The lithium-ion EV batteries, however, are lighter and 80 % of their potential can be used. Employing such a circular economy model, he said, will not only help provide access to clean energy but also reduce imports from China, while massively offsetting the carbon footprint of EV batteries in India.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, used in EVs and other sectors, are known to be good, durable storage systems for recharging options. However, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims that lithium-ion batteries are hazardous and should not be mixed with household or recycle bins and it could cause fire during transport or at landfill/recycler sites.

Extracting urban battery wastes

Another Bengaluru-based startup, Metastable Materials was founded by an IIT-Roorkee alumnus, Shubham Vishwakarma, in light of increased battery waste due to the rise of EVs in the country. Vishwakarma calls his company an urban mining company as it is involved in the extraction of valuable materials out of urban waste items like EV batteries.

The startup claims that 90 % recovery of the crucial components of the batteries like copper, aluminium, cobalt, nickel, lithium, and others make it into re-use by other industries, leading to reduced flow of battery wastes into waste sites in cities. The startup says it is using patented technology to eliminate the use of chemicals and reduce the generation of waste in the recycling of lithium-ion batteries that are allegedly done when using conventional methods.

“We are not using any typical method of battery recycling and the unique processing is the USP of our work. We use our own patented Integrated Carbon Reduction technology in recycling the batteries. Usually in conventional recycling, the end product comes in a mixed chemical form whereas with our technology we bring the materials in the standard metallic format which could be directly used in the associated industries,” Saurav Goyal, Founding Member of Metastable.

“The whole idea is to make the recycling process sustainable and also target the reduction of imports of materials used in making batteries. India does not have mines for lithium and cobalt. They are imported. So, if we are able to extract the same from these batteries and put these into reuse, we can help in reducing the imports too and also lead to less of these metals getting into dump yards of landfills and creating another problem for society. If these batteries reach landfills and catch fire, they can engulf whole landfills creating another public health and environmental hazard. So, it is important for the country to have urban mining companies like ours to ensure the most efficient recycling of batteries,” he said.

Read more: Why e-vehicles aren’t popular in Bengaluru, and how this can change

The Ministry of Heavy Industries in the latest monsoon session of the Parliament also told the House that the Union government had been giving special incentives through Production Linked Subsidy for the promotion of Advanced Chemistry Cells (ACC) for EVs, which includes lithium-ion batteries.

Team members at Metastable Materials, a Bengaluru-based start up
Metastable is now working to extract key metals of EV batteries to make it ready for re-use. Pic courtesy: Metastable.

The NITI Aayog recently also batted for a battery swapping regime under which batteries could be used as a service for EVs from the battery swapping stations on subscription or payment method, which could reduce the time spent in charging at home or charging stations.

[This story was first published on Mongabay India and has been republished with permission. The original article can be read here]

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