(From left) Karthik Hajela, Pankaj Sharma and Akshay Singhal, Co-founders, Log9
As with many other hardware components and products, when it comes to cells that make up the battery packs that go into electric vehicles (EV), China is the world’s biggest supplier. More importantly, India has zero commercial capacity, which means the country imports these cells.
At Log9, Akshay Singhal, Kartik Hajela and Pankaj Sharma are changing that one cell at a time. The task is massive, but it holds the key to India’s self-reliance in critical areas of the EV sector.
“The biggest challenge is that it's never been done in India, before,” says Hemant Charaya, senior vice president for battery cell technology at Log9, who leads the company’s cell chemistry and engineering team. And even in the rest of the world, there is a scarcity of the talent everywhere, he says.
And while India has millions in the IT services industry, when it comes to developing a lithium-ion cell, setting up the necessary R&D and then a factory to make them, there wasn’t an existing talent pool for Log9 to dip into.
“It's very difficult to find somebody who has worked on these kind of lines… who has worked on building these kind of cells,” Charaya says. Today, Log9’s cell team is upwards of 40 people and it has been painstakingly put together “organically” over the last three years. “The good part is, they stuck around,” he adds.
Along with indigenously manufacturing cells, starting with a 50MW plant in Bengaluru, Log9 is also attacking two important technical problems inherent to any of the current cells and batteries in the market. One is that trying to charge them faster also degrades them faster and cuts their life. And, therefore, the second is, if they can’t be charged quickly enough, there’s a certain “range anxiety” that gets built into every consumer purchase of an EV.
Then there is also the government subsidy on EVs that sooner rather than later will go away. That means batteries will likely become smaller, but they will still have to deliver enough juice, Charaya says. These are some of the challenges Log9 faces in engineering its cells. Also read: Log9 is making India's first EV cells. Can it take on China?
One important innovation Log9 has developed is a way to tackle a critical problem called lithium plating that in the extreme case can cause what engineers call “thermal runaway” and cause the battery to heat up and melt or even burn. They’ve found a way, through a combination of materials, cell chemistry and battery and cell management, to minimise the problem while allowing for quick charges.
Log9 makes cells—one rated 3.2V 50Ah and the other 2.3V 50Ah—that the founders claim are better than what’s available in the market today. They offer more energy per unit quantity of what’s in the cell, and work well in Indian conditions.