DEBI PRASAD DASH is Director at India Energy Storage Alliance (IESA)
Energy storage systems have gained increasing interest in the world of electricity and the mobility market – it has around 20 different applications in India such as renewable integration, grid ancillary services, diesel minimisation, micro-grids for energy access and campuses as well as electric vehicles (EVs) and charging infrastructure. India’s energy storage market is growing, but there is still a supply-demand gap. The country is anticipated to become one of the best markets for adoption of energy storage technologies due to several drivers like the fastest-growing economy, increasing share of renewables, transmission constraints, need for providing 24x7 quality power and electric mobility mission.
Recent years have seen the coming up of solar and wind parks, testing of various hybrid technologies, building of micro-grids, electrification of public transport systems, electric models for two-wheelers, and EVs for individual commuters.
The Indian market is currently dominated by lead acid batteries that are the preferred choice of customers for power backup applications. Around 8 % of residential customers also use rooftop solar panels with lead acid batteries. Indian manufacturers are also working on introducing advanced lead acid batteries, including lead carbon and UltraBattery. They are expected to get competition from li-ion batteries, especially for applications that require daily or multiple times per day usage.
India, in fact, is also exporting lead acid batteries to other SAARC & MENA countries. More than 800 small and medium-scale companies are manufacturing lead acid batteries (VRLA and GEL) in India. But with high competition in battery price and raw materials, most companies are eying advanced technologies. With a high lifecycle, enhanced efficiency and stiff price reduction, li-ion is giving tough competition to current lead acid technologies. There is an improvement in technology happening across the globe. Bipolar technology and carbon foam content are increasingly adopted by lead acid manufacturers in China, the UK, the USA and other markets.
Amid volatility in lead prices, Exide Industries is looking to reduce its dependence on lead by focussing on developing advanced technology bipolar lead acid batteries. Exide Industries has already entered into a technical license agreement with Advanced Battery Concepts, LLC, USA (ABC) for acquiring know-how and technology in the field of bipolar lead acid storage batteries.
Li-ion batteries are common in portable electronics and are one of the most popular types of rechargeable batteries, with high energy density, long cycle life and low self-discharge. They are also growing in popularity for military, medical devices and aerospace applications. Li-ion has already witnessed acceptance in telecom towers, electric vehicles and large-scale solar integration projects. It has huge potential grid stability, ancillary market and power back-ups. Li-ion batteries have evolved rapidly with a wide range of cell technologies and system architectures available on the market.
Lithium is the lightest of all metals; it has the greatest electrochemical potential and provides the largest specific energy density. Due to its high energy density, long cycle life, better performance and high thermal safety, li-ion batteries have become the most promising and fastest-growing battery technology in the market. The first commercial li-ion battery was introduced by Sony in the year 1991 was a lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2) or LCO battery. EV manufacturers have chosen lithium-ion as a preferred technology due to higher energy density and power density. At the same time, India has also seen large-scale utilisation of lead acid batteries for e-rickshaws.
Currently, li-ion, LFP (lithium iron phosphate or lithium ferrophosphate) and NMC (nickel-manganese-cobalt) chemistries are widely used with huge manufacturing facilities in China, USA, Korea, Japan and Europe. LFP offers good electrochemical performance with low resistance. This is made possible with nano-scale phosphate cathode material. The key benefits are high current rating and long cycle life, besides good thermal stability, enhanced safety and tolerance, if abused.
One of the most successful li-ion chemistry is a cathode combination of nickel, manganese and cobalt, which is also known as lithium-manganese-cobalt-oxide batteries, or NMC, lithium nickel manganese cobalt. Oxide batteries are made of several materials common in other lithium-ion batteries. These involve a cathode combination of nickel, manganese and cobalt. NMC batteries can either have high specific energy or high specific power and are most common in power tools and in powertrains for vehicles.
Over the years, li-ion batteries have evolved from LCO, LMO, LFP, NCA, NMC and emerging technologies like LTO, Li-Air and Li-Sulphur. Lithium sulphur batteries are attractive due to their 4-6X higher energy density compared to li-ion batteries. The Sulphur, which is the cathode material, is an abundantly available resource (no mining required). It has high potential for usage like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), space exploration – satellites and interplanetary missions, medical devices including external, implantable and portable devices, portable and wearable electronic devices.
A lithium-air battery has an energy density comparable to gasoline, which makes them attractive for EVs. They are lightweight because they do not have a cathode inside the battery. Instead, they rely on the oxygen that is present in the air as the active cathode. Currently, the cycle life of the batteries needs to be improved so as to enable practical applications. Lithium titanate battery benefits range from a long lifetime to enhanced safety, low-temperature performance and large potential for EV space. Its applications persist in aerospace applications, electric transportation.
Other technologies like flow batteries (VRB, ZBR), sodium-based battery, zinc-air batteries are also emerging applications. Sodium-based batteries and flow batteries are good for long duration energy applications such as solar shifting, back-up power and are best suited applications for these technologies. Rural micro-grids are best suited applications for Zinc-air battery.
BHEL is planning to set up India’s first li-ion giga factory to manufacture li-ion cells in a JV with Libcoin with plans to scale up the capacity to 30 GWh in due course. Earlier this year, ISRO selected 10 companies to transfer its indigenously developed low-cost li-ion cell technology. Exide Industries formed a 75:25 joint venture with Switzerland-based Leclanché SA, a leading global energy storage company that produces lithium-ion batteries. Maruti Suzuki India Ltd (MSIL) in collaboration with Toshiba and Denso, also announced its decision to set up lithium-ion battery production facility purely dedicated to automobiles. Earlier this year, India and Bolivia signed a MoU for the development and industrial use of lithium for the production of lithium-ion batteries.
The government should also take active steps for bilateral agreements with lithium and cobalt rich nations like Chile, Argentina, Congo, Canada and Australia or to enhance the R&D process and exploration of raw material mines in India. Apart from the li-Ion technology, India should look into other technologies like flow batteries, sodium-based batteries, zinc-air, aluminium-air and other emerging technologies.
We believe that with appropriate government support, India will be one of the largest markets in advanced energy storage space in the next decade.