India, along with the rest of the world, is rapidly moving towards renewable energy integration. Owing to India’s ambitious 2030 targets, enabling the integration of renewables on a large scale would require grid stability, which implies a significant rise in stationary energy storage demand. Moreover, India’s electric mobility sector is emerging as a primary driver of battery storage demand in the country. According to NITI Aayog, the annual market for stationary and mobile batteries in India could range between $6 billion and $15 billion by 2030, with almost $12 billion from cells and $3 billion from pack assembly and integration.
A thriving domestic battery manufacturing ecosystem with a robust local supply chain can help India capture the significant economic opportunity presented by the energy storage industry. However, certain limitations in terms of availability of raw materials and technologies exist. Therefore, before the development of a manufacturing hub, it is crucial for India to identify the right technologies to invest in, on the basis of their particular specifications and applicability.
Performance metrics and parameters
Cell parameters and performance metrics defined by the overall global market can play a key role in analysing various battery storage technologies in India. While building their supply chains, equipment manufacturers often take battery cell performance and pack performance as key considerations. There are several key metrics that Indian battery cells will have to compete with, not only to reduce India’s dependence on imports and capture the domestic market, but also to eventually become a global exporter of cells and energy storage technologies.
Energy density is an important performance metric and refers to the battery’s energy content with respect to its mass. Given the significant role of weight in the cells used for electric mobility and consumer electronics, energy density holds high priority as a metric in these industries. Power density, which refers to the maximum available power per unit mass, is another important measure that determines the weight of the battery required to achieve a given performance outcome. The cycle life of a battery, defined as discharging at minimum 80 per cent of its nameplate energy capacity in one cycle, is another metric that can analyse the performance of battery cells. Furthermore, the cycle life is a crucial metric in stationary storage applications and electric vehicles (EVs). Another important performance indicator is the charge rate, which measures the rate at which a battery discharges relative to its maximum charging capacity.
The prioritisation of these metrics may be highly specific and will differ according to the required application of the cell. For instance, energy density, power density and charge rate are critical metrics in the EV segment, but these metrics are not of similar significance for applications in stationary storage. Other indicators such as battery pricing and cost of production, recyclability, performance outcomes in varying/ extreme temperature conditions and safety may also be considered to determine the suitability of a particular battery technology for a given application.
Moving ahead, to ensure the Indian battery manufacturing sector maintains its competitiveness with global manufacturers in the long run, producing storage technologies and cells that are on par with such global battery performance metrics will be crucial.
Lithium-ion batteries: Performance and specifications
Commercial lithium-ion batteries have emerged as the most prominent market force due to their high packing efficiency, high energy density and rapidly decreasing costs. These batteries have applications in consumer electronics, electric power trains, electric cars and buses, grid-scale storage and medical devices, etc. However, a key challenge with these batteries is their sensitivity to high temperatures, which makes them inherently flammable when exposed to heat. They also have a short life cycle and may be more costly. To cope with such challenges, new technologies and materials are being explored.
In addition, spurred by global demand, advancements in lithium-ion battery technologies are being undertaken by manufacturers and start-ups globally, who are identifying new processes, cell designs and materials to lower costs and improve the efficiency of lithium-ion batteries. Leading advanced technologies include lithium sulphur, solid state, semi-solid, lithium air and lithium carbon batteries. Lithium sulphur batteries have high tolerance for extreme temperature and find application in the electrification of trucks and buses. Solid state cells are suitable for long-range EVs while lithium air batteries are ideal for residential storage due to the low cost of materials and high energy density. Lithium carbon batteries have the advantage of a relatively lower carbon footprint and are ideal for EV two/three-wheelers, which require fast charging. At the moment, however, most of these technologies are either not commercially viable, have poor life cycles, or are at their initial research and development (R&D) stages.
With the expected boom in the demand for battery storage over the next decade, manufacturers are now investing in new technologies on a commercial scale. While many of these emerging technologies have existed in the market for several years, improvements in performance and cost outcomes have motivated further investment in them for commercial deployment.
The manufacturing of commonly used battery materials such as lithium-ion is heavily reliant on scarce minerals such as lithium, cobalt, graphite and nickel, which are not abundantly available in India. As a result, the country is primarily dependent on imports and has low control over the supply chain of these conventional batteries. Moreover, the scarcity of components/minerals required for manufacturing these batteries poses a great risk to India’s energy security and balance of trade. Thus, building a robust battery manufacturing ecosystem in the country would entail significant investments in innovative technologies that effectively utilise the resources abundantly present in India, minimise the dependence on scarce resources and enable the implementation of a circular economy with recycling.
Several such alternative and advanced cell technologies are now being developed considering the need for higher efficiency and lower-cost advanced batteries. These include batteries such as flow, sodium sulphur, zinc air, sodium-ion, aluminium air and supercapacitors. Flow, sodium ion and sodium sulphur batteries are ideal for long-duration storage, which will be the need of the market going forward. Zinc air batteries show higher safety performance relative to incumbent lithium-ion batteries and are likely to cater to small consumer electronics. Aluminium air batteries are suitable for long-range EVs. However, the technology is currently in the R&D stage. Supercapacitors have a long cycle life, low input material costs and good specific energy, which is ideal for fast response grid support applications, medical devices and consumer electronics.
While promising, many of these emerging technologies entail high system costs, are at the initial commercial/R&D stage, and require special housing for thermal safety. Therefore, their true potential in the market cannot be accurately determined at present.
India is on the path to achieve its ambitious target of deploying 500 GW of non-fossil fuel energy by 2030. It also aims to have EVs make up 30 per cent of all new vehicle sales during the same timeline. Against this background, battery storage technologies represent a great economic opportunity for India. To ensure the smooth integration of renewable energy into the grid and meet the demands of the growing e-mobility sector, building a robust domestic advanced chemistry cell battery manufacturing ecosystem in India would be crucial.
At present, India’s role as a manufacturer in the global advanced battery market is almost negligible, given insufficient domestic demand and the lack of raw materials naturally available in the country. However, new-age emerging technologies that provide better performance at a lower cost are now being actively explored in the country. Utilising domestically available materials such as sodium and aluminium can go a long way in promoting India’s battery manufacturing sector.
Going forward, certain key factors must be considered. Developing battery technologies that minimise the use of rare earth minerals will be vital to boost domestic production. Battery recycling along with the repurposing of batteries for a second-life application can be beneficial both economically and environmentally. In the long run, improving the lifespan and capacity of a battery, which may lead to relatively fewer batteries required per application, can improve the unit economics and overall performance of consumer electronics and EVs.
Rising concerns with respect to accidents and fire breakouts at manufacturing facilities as well as at the point of application have emerged as key barriers in the uptake of battery storage technologies and EVs. To improve consumer confidence and subsequently increase demand, ensuring the safety of batteries is important. Battery recycling will play a critical role in India as it is not abundantly endowed with materials utilised in the manufacturing of lithium batteries. A robust recycling mechanism can save foreign import bills.
Finally, while the PLI scheme is a welcome step, consistent efforts by the government to establish a sustainable and strong ecosystem for domestic manufacturing of batteries will play a key role in determining India’s position in the global market over the coming months. n
This article is an extract from a report titled “Need for Advanced Chemistry Cell Energy Storage in India (Part II of III)”, published by NITI Aayog, RMI and RMI India in April 2022