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India’s automotive future looks electric

Concerted policy push and innovations from automotive manufacturers are fast making e-mobility viable.

 

The coming decade is expected to be the decade of the fully electric car. With battery prices reportedly falling 73% since 2010, electric cars are expected to be as cheap as fuel-powered cars in the foreseeable future. The International Energy Agency cites that by 2020 up to 20 million electric vehicles will ply the road, a number that is expected to go up to 70 million by 2025. Countries around the world are waking up to the potential of e-mobility. While China is incentivising e-mobility with tax breaks, EV credit policies, research subsidies and more, countries like the UK, France, Norway and India are looking to adopt e-mobility at a larger scale, having expressed the desire to phase out petrol and diesel engines entirely in the coming decades.

India has a lot to gain from the widespread adoption of e-mobility. Under the Make In India programme, the manufacturing of e-vehicles and their associated components is expected to increase the share of manufacturing in India’s GDP to 25% by 2022. On the economic front, large-scale adoption of electric vehicles is projected to help save $60 billion on oil imports by 2030 - currently 82% of India’s oil demand is fulfilled by imports. Price of electricity as fuel could fall as low as Rs 1.1/km, helping an electric vehicle owner save up to Rs. 20,000 for every 5,000km traversed. Finally, electrification will help reduce vehicular emissions, a key contributor to air pollution which causes an average 3% GDP loss every year.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a concerted policy push at the national level to promote e-mobility, especially with the ratification of the Paris climate agreement. The National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) 2020 and Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme were both announced in aspiration of an electric-only future for automobiles by 2030. In addition, a lower GST rate (12%) has been levied on electric vehicles compared to other categories.

A holistic e-mobility ecosystem comprises electric vehicles, charging infrastructure, e-mobility service providers (car sharing, rentals etc.) and regulations. Ride-sharing company Ola recently announced ‘ Mission: Electric’, under which it aims to put one million electric vehicles on the road by 2021. The draft National Auto Policy, released in February 2018, suggests friendly regulations and fiscal incentives to promote green mobility. It recommends defining a green mobility roadmap for India, which would include a national plan for the establishment of relevant public infrastructure.

Currently, charging infrastructure for e-mobility is an area of concern; however, there have been some positive developments. Delhi recently legalised charging stations for e-rickshaws and hopes that with more incentives, civic agencies and private players would step forward. NTPC, India’s largest power generation utility, has already commissioned its first EV charging station - designed in-house with a capacity to charge three electric vehicles simultaneously - in Vishakhapatnam.

The most crucial aspect of the e-mobility ecosystem is, of course, the electric vehicle itself. In India, public transport is leading the way for mainstreaming of e-mobility. E-rickshaws are mushrooming as public transport in Indian cities due to lower cost of operation and economical fares. Delhi alone is believed to have almost a lakh e-rickshaws plying its roads, while Kolkata will see an upgrade from totos to e-rickshaws soon. The recent jump in electric vehicle sales also point to a rising preference for personal electric vehicles.

The demand for electric vehicles is driven by hopes of fast-charging batteries with extended driving range. For automotive players today, the core challenge is developing quality batteries that are long-lasting, safe and can store a lot of energy. In the current ecosystem, lead-acid batteries and lithium ion batteries have emerged as the most suitable options.

 The earliest electric vehicles were equipped with lead-acid batteries, favoured in use for public transport due to their reliability and relative affordability. They are predominantly present in two-and-three wheelers - such as light golf carts and the e-rickshaws of India - due to their low power and short range. In recent times, carbon additives in lead-acid batteries have shown promise in improving battery performance significantly, adding to their viability for use in personal and commercial vehicles too.

Lithium ion batteries, on the other hand, are capable of fast charging and high performance and can be found in the latest electric vehicles. Innovations in cathode materials, such as adopting nickel, have improved their energy content, safety and life span. Today’s lithium ion batteries are also safer due to addition of less electrochemically active metals, such as aluminium or manganese, which reduce the risk of fire due to oxidation.

BASF is a leading cathode active material (CAM) supplier to platforms of leading automotive Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and battery producers. Its engineered carbon can significantly increase the durability of lead-acid. In lithium ion batteries, its cathode materials optimise the flow of lithium ions further, resulting in higher power and better rates at which the battery delivers energy.

Apart from efficiency, safety is also important in determining the ultimate viability of electric vehicles. A lot can be achieved by reducing overall vehicle mass, protecting against flammability and short circuiting and using highly engineered materials which can withstand physical and chemical degradation. One of the solutions is BASF’s Ultramid® range of plastics that can be used to create cell frames and casings because of its high-strength and temperature-resistant properties. Casings made of thermoplastic can achieve up to a 30% mass reduction in comparison to metals.

To reduce energy usage, BASF has also developed a line of cool pigments to help control cabin temperature; the darker shades and colours absorb up to 90% of the sun’s heat. These modifications are especially beneficial in vehicles equipped with bigger batteries capable of longer ranges, since they tend to be burdened with additional pounds and show a greater need for heat management.

E-mobility research tends to be complex due to the varied demands of the different kinds of electric vehicles. BASF is at the forefront of e-mobility solutions with its R&D in advanced battery materials, engineered plastics and pigments/ coating solutions. It is also continuously working with the academia and the industry to make long-term investments towards realising an electric vehicle-led future. You can read more about BASF’s continuing innovations in the field of e-mobility  here.

This article was produced by the  Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.