The safe way forward for an electric vehicle ecosystem

The Union road ministry has asked the Center for Fire Explosives & Environment Safety (CFEES), an arm of Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), to investigate “the circumstances leading to the explosion/fire” of an Ola Electric scooter in Pune and an Okinawa scooter in Vellore. Mint’s Alisha Sachdev asked a panel of industry, startup, and policy experts how India can develop a safe electric vehicle (EV) ecosystem.

Rakesh Sharma, executive director, Bajaj Auto

There are three important things as we present lithium-ion batteries as a new mobility solution. The first, at Bajaj Auto, is around responsible design. Energy management and heat management should be well-balanced in design so that it doesn’t fall into the temptation of trying to extract a much higher performance; when it is not supported by the design even momentarily, issues can occur. The second is sourcing. A lot of EV parts are new, and it is important to avoid untested vendors for the convenience of lower price or immediate availability. The third principle is testing and validation. There are multiple use cases, and it takes a long time to validate the robustness of the product under all use cases on the field. A responsible OEM should be able to service 99% of these use cases.

Suhas Rajkumar, Founder, Simple Energy

For EVs, the first and foremost thing any startup should focus on is the battery and powertrain components. When you’re developing an EV, you need to first map the country and geography that you’re servicing. You cannot replicate technology from some other country without understanding your market’s unique data. We also look at the infrastructure that is currently available. For Simple One, we have developed our own PCM (phase change materials) understanding the current temperatures, average use case and of course, heat dissipation methodologies. Quality checks on the cells need to be precise, because once an OEM receives them, they can sometimes miss out quality-checking each and every cell. We should adopt an ‘R&D, assemble, and sell model’ instead of just an ‘assemble and sell’ model.

Randheer Singh, Director, Niti Aayog

Lithium-ion batteries are being used in a wide variety of applications around us; the difference is the density of an EV battery, and the abuse it goes through with various cycles of charge and discharge. In an EV, a single faulty cell in a battery could trigger a malfunction. Most lithium-ion cells used in EVs are imported, which necessitates more stringent testing of batteries. However, we need to make a thrust towards self-assessment by OEMs. The industry must act responsibly. Last year, India released the AIS 156 safety standards for EV batteries, which are one of the most advanced standards in the world as far battery testing goes. Compliance with the standards and self-regulation have to be acted upon.

Sohinder Gill, CEO, Hero Electric

There are checks and balances which are still possible to be made on the existing batteries in the field. Any one of the million cells in battery packs can malfunction and catch fire. So, one of the focus areas should be to see to it that even if there is a fire, we should minimize damage and see to it that is not explosive. We are working with a Canadian startup to develop a thermal sensor alarm which can be affixed on any battery. This device can be installed on existing batteries also. We should work back from the batteries in the field, then into battery designs and sourcing. Customer education on how to handle the electric vehicle’s battery is another important aspect that should be taken on priority.

Arun Vinayak, Co-founder, Exponent Energy

There is a lot of misconception around why EVs catch fire. One is an electrical fire where a customer plugs the EV into a wrong socket which is a common occurrence. Nearly 99% of the time, batteries catch fire because of an internal or external short-circuit. How you connect and package the cells together, and if your battery management system (BMS) is smart enough is critical. The objective is to prevent a thermal runaway if a single cell catches fire. BMS software has to work correctly 99.9% of the time.

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