Batteries for electric vehicles: The burning issue to be addressed

By: Sheetal Bahl, MD and partner at growX Ventures.

Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) have been rising over the last few years in India, thanks to several new start-ups roaming the industry with new product launches and a sustained push from the government to create a conducive ecosystem for growth of electrical mobility. Even existing auto major has jumped into the fray and has started launching vehicles across two- and four-wheeled categories. Investments in this area – both from VCs (Venture Capitalist) and the industry have increased manifold in the last few years. However, the recent wave of battery fires, especially in electric two-wheeled cars, has cast a shadow of this promising growth and done some of the good that has been achieved so far. If safety is not addressed, customers will lose faith in electric cars and a much-needed industry may suffer endless damage.

The underlying problem with these incidents is not a mystery. Years of research into lithium-ion batteries have made the root cause of battery fires quite clear: over-consumption of the batteries without any safety cut-off points. Most cases of fires can be attributed to overcharging / overcharging of the batteries and lack of thermal control in the battery modules leading to thermal leaks and any explosions and fires.

Thermal escape starts with a particular cell or group of cells releasing enormous amounts of energy out of their structures. This can be caused by various reasons ranging from incorrect cell selection, mechanical faults, external / internal short circuits, overcharging or overcharging and lack of thermal control in batteries among others. The concept of thermal escape is not new, nor is it the fact that the Indian climate is extreme and summer temperatures cross 45 degrees Celsius in many Indian cities. This merely highlights the state of unsafe products being rolled out in the market. Newer technologies like this, especially in the automotive industry, require research and development efforts followed by careful testing and validation under representative conditions, and it takes time. The events that are emerging on the market are the result of companies cutting back on testing and development time to quickly roll out products.

The good news is that solutions to these problems already exist, and several companies have successfully built battery technology to solve these problems right at the design stage. These manufacturers have developed and implemented smart battery packs with integrated thermal management systems that have been tested under representative Indian conditions and have been certified with AIS-156, the current EV battery test standard in India, which is on par with those followed globally.

It should also be noted that several international car brands, along with domestic ones, are successfully selling their electric four-wheel drive motors in the country without the kind of unfortunate incidents seen with the two-wheeled cars, which shows that with sufficient attention to research and development of such incidents are completely avoidable.

The Government of India has responded quickly and ordered an investigation into these incidents and several companies have made major recalls to address these issues and prevent further damage to life and property. The government is also working to formulate additional standards to ensure that battery manufacturers pay adequate attention to quality control.

In order for electric mobility to spread across the length and breadth of the country, consumers need to feel safe and secure in using these vehicles. OEMs must ensure that only high-quality batteries are introduced into their products so that the safety of the general public is not compromised and the momentum of the transition to electric mobility is not hindered by such adverse events.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author. These views and opinions do not represent The Indian Express Groups or its employees.

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