The electrifying reality: Govt must chalk out an EV road map

The government has set a rather ambitious target of 2030 by when all new cars sold in India have to be electric. The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers has instead proposed a more realistic target of 40 per cent of new vehicle sales in the country to be pure electric by 2030, with the aim of getting to 100 per cent all-electric by 2047.

 

Are either achievable? And why this obsession with electric vehicles (EVs)? Because the tail pipe emission of an EV is zero in pollution terms. So, are EVs the only ones that can deliver zero emission? Shouldn’t it be the government’s priority to decide and set standards that progressively get to zero emission and leave the industry to figure out how to get there?

 

The government also pronounced that it would encourage the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries in India, so that the EVs produced in the country wouldn’t need to import the batteries (mostly from China), thereby assuming that lithium-ion is the best form of energy storage. If one goes by the efficacy of the Teslas of the world then that must be true. Yet French technology innovator FAAR Industry’s Director of Innovation Randolph Toom points out: “We believe that lithium-ion is not the solution for hotter countries, unless they are thermally insulated and equipped with a heat pump which adds considerably to the cost of the system.”

 

What could be a better solution? Battery experts are betting on lithium-iron phosphate (LFP) batteries as the more efficient solution. LFP has a longer cycle-life than lithium-ion, yet costs less to make, but works much better in higher ambient temperature. Then, experts will tell you that you can get even better energy densities, as well as shortened charging times with graphene-based batteries. Developmental work is also going on with aluminium air batteries too, which have very high energy density, though anode costs are exorbitant. Either way, to bet on lithium-ion may not be the best solution for the long term.

 

The most important consideration should be regarding the availability, both nationally and worldwide, of the natural resources required to make the batteries. At present, lithium supplies can manage to follow market demand. With EVs becoming rapidly popular, prices are bound to shoot up. Alternative battery chemistries therefore merit attention and research.

 

Betting solely on batteries and EVs may not be the best solution at achieving zero emission automobiles. Many leading automobile manufacturers across the globe, most specifically the ones in Europe, are spending considerable sums on hydrogen fuel-cell power to generate energy to drive the electric motor, instead of conventional batteries. Hydrogen has a real advantage when it comes to fast charging (comparable to petrol/diesel) but the charging stations costs are prohibitive, as of now.

 

There is also ongoing research on the use of other energy vectors such as liquid electrolytes with redox-flow cells and the possibility to combine various technologies. Another approach is to supply energy on the go. Various experiments in this field are currently being conducted in Europe where trucks use overhead lines or rails in the ground.

 

Thus several possible solutions are in the process of getting developed and to put all eggs into the basket of lithium-ion battery-powered EVs may not be the wisest decision. It’s with such a philosophy that the European Union (EU) regulators have recently proposed a 30 per cent reduction in car discharges of carbon dioxide by 2030 compared with 2021 levels. The plan, which will progressively tighten existing CO2 limits, features incentives for automakers to shift to EVs. India needs to adopt a similar plan too.

 

Though total production of EVs topped a million in 2017, EVs still represented a minuscule 1.25 per cent of worldwide production of automobiles (and just 0.2 per cent of the global vehicle parc!). By 2030, EV production is expected to go up to 8-10 million, which, at best, would represent not more than 10 per cent of the global vehicle production then. Bulk of that would be for the world’s biggest electric car market, China. So, to expect India to get to 100 per cent electric by 2030 is unrealistic.

 

More noteworthy is that the number of full hybrids sold last year was more than twice the number of EVs sold. Even if EV production by 2030 is expected to be 10 per cent of the global production, full hybrids are expected to get to 80 per cent! It is imperative that the government figures out a progressive road map that not only sets targets, but encourages the industry to be innovative and inventive.   The author founded India’s first automotive magazine Indian Auto in 1986 and has authored seven books on automobiles