India working towards adoption of Aluminium-air Battery Technology for EVs
While EV Manufacturers the world over are minting money pushing Lithium-Ion Battery based EVs, it feels so nice to me to say that India has not fallen in the trap and presently use of EVs in miniscule. Rather than blindly following suit of what is in vogue regarding EV Technology the world over, India decided to wait & watch, and Govt. requested all who matter to try and work out a better alternative, if possible.
Indian strategists, scientists and technologists started mind storming to examine the available alternatives namely:
1. The technology in vogue namely Lithium-Ion Battery based EVs and
2. Hydrogen Fuel-cell based EVs.
The above two technologies, in brief, compare as below, so far as India is concerned:
· Adoption of Lithium-Ion Batteries for EVs, is almost like total dependence on China as India doesn’t have any sizable reserves of Lithium in areas where it is advisable to carry out mining operations. Moreover, Lithium-Ion Batteries are known to have caught fire and therefore are not safe enough. Further, range of even the best EV with Lithium-Ion Batteries is not good enough under Indian circumstances as people take to travelling by cars for distances of about 1000 km whereas range of even best EV namely Tesla Model S, which only a few in India can afford to buy, is 405 miles (i.e., 648 km) and due to time taken for recharging being too much in comparison with refilling of petrol or Diesel in tanks of conventional vehicles, the technology is not attractive enough to be adopted as national policy in India.
· Adoption of Hydrogen Fuel-cell poses even more problems in terms of setting up of Hydrogen charging stations all over India at reasonable distances from each other and logistics of supplying of Hydrogen to such charging stations. Therefore, adoption of use of Hydrogen Fuel-cells for EV also doesn’t suit India as a national policy.
While some people started working on adoption of Hydrogen Fuel-cell technology others tried to explore something even better.
At this stage Govt. of India is keeping all options open. The Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas (MoP&NG) is undertaking few initiatives with respect to the greater use of hydrogen in the energy mix. The first pilot is based on Grey Hydrogen, or Hydrogen CNG (H-CNG) initiative, where hydrogen is blended with compressed natural gas (CNG) to the extent of 18%, for use as transportation fuel at Rajghat Bus depot in New Delhi, the capitol of India. Under this pilot, 50 buses are plying on blended Hydrogen in Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).
Simultaneously Secretary MoPNG has taken up the matter with the petroleum sector oil and gas marketing companies and with prominent solar power producers to explore the possibility of utilization of solar power to generate hydrogen. As an outcome of these deliberations, five other pilots are planned based on Green Hydrogen where hydrogen produced is to be used as transportation fuel as well as an industrial input to refineries.
Following Pilots based on Green Hydrogen are being planned:
a. Two Pilot for Setting up of Solar hydrogen refuelling station at two locations (locations to be identified upon consultation with the Green Hydrogen suppliers) for demonstration of fuel cell vehicles at tourist sites like Delhi-Agra, Gujarat (Statue of Unity), etc.
b. One Pilot for setting up a green hydrogen plant to explore an opportunity of replacing conventional hydrogen in refinery with green hydrogen.
c. One Pilot for production of green hydrogen and its blending with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) at an appropriate site in the state of Rajasthan for dispensing at retail outlets.
d. One Pilot for setting up of green hydrogen infrastructure and pipeline injection of green hydrogen in City Gas Distribution (CGD) network.
These pilots are at preliminary stage of preparation and different modalities are being worked out to achieve the purpose of the pilots.
MoP&NG has a Hydrogen Corpus Fund (HCF). The Fund participates in funding R&D projects which are led by the oil industry. Among the projects currently being funded are for finding Multiple Pathways for production of hydrogen; H-CNG; and hydrogen production through decomposition of natural gas. Academic institutions are involved in these projects to leverage their knowledge in frontier areas.
Simultaneously with working with grey and green hydrogen, Govt. of India also is keen on ways and means for deployment of Aluminium as a fuel because of the following facts.
· India has one of the highest deposits of aluminium ore (bauxite) and is also one of the biggest producers of aluminium primary metal. Therefore, it should be natural choice of India to do all that is possible to deploy Aluminium, in whatever manner it can be done, to be used in Primary Cells to produce electricity. Aluminium primary metal is produced by electrolysis of Alumina (Al2O3) which is obtained after cleaning the ore bauxite. Production of Aluminium by electrolysis of Alumina under present state of the art needs 13 kWh per kg of Aluminium. And Aluminium — Air Battery typical performance as at present state of the art is 8.1 kg/kWh (i.e., consumption of 8.1 kg of Aluminium = 1kWh).
As against the Lithium-Ion battery, the Aluminium-Air battery under the present state of the art has a capacity of 8.1 kWh/kg. Therefore, a battery weighing just 475 kg will provide a range of 3848 km. Incidentally, in India National Highway (NH-44) covers the North-South Corridor it runs over 3,806 km from Srinagar in Kashmir to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and is the longest national highway in India. Therefore, an EV with Al-Air Battery weighing just 475 kg will suffice to cover India’s longest highway non-stop. Of course, such a planning would be impractical. Therefore, finally the EVs may end up with a battery weighing 150 kg to provide a range of 1200 km.
· Best part is that it would be possible to equip trucks with Al-Air Batteries of suitable size to achieve total freedom from use and dependence of Diesel Fuel.
· Moreover, once the aluminium anode in Al-Air Batteries is used up Alumina (Al2O3) is formed and is left over as white sludge in bottom under the electrolyte, and it can be recycled in any aluminium smelter to again produce aluminium primary metal. Thus, there is no real consumption of aluminium metal, and the technology wouldn’t deplete the aluminium ore reserves of India. Owing to the above reasons Aluminium — air Battery technology has been chosen for India. Although, Al-Air Batteries appear to be Primary Battery, indirectly it amounts to Electricity being used to produce primary Aluminium metal.
Therefore, Indian Oil Corp. (IOC), India’s largest oil refiner, has teamed up with an Israel based start-up named Phinergy Ltd. The two will synergise to eliminate several drawbacks that have kept it from wide-scale adoption of the technology, since it was first proposed in the 1960s. Chief among them is the cost of additive materials that need to be added to the battery to prevent the power from dropping.
IOC made a strategic investment in Phinergy in early 2020, and it’s already existing 30,000 petrol and Diesel dispensing stations on almost all roads in India can serve as the infrastructure for the deployment of Aluminium–air battery technology because EV battery swapping is being envisaged.
To assess the viability of wide-scale use in India, automakers Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd., Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. and Ashok Leyland Ltd. are carrying out vehicle tests that are expected to take almost a year. If the technology is found to be practically viable, IOC and Phinergy plan to set up a gigawatt-scale facility to manufacture the Aluminium-air Batteries in India.
Success would help Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to tackle three urgent problems for the country: cutting pollution, reducing raw material imports and creating jobs. Moreover, it may drastically reduce the imports bill and increase self-sufficiency.