By: Shital Bahl, MD and partner of Groex Ventures.
Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) in India have been growing over the past few years, thanks to multiple new start-ups entering the industry with new product launches and continued pressure from the government to create a conducive ecosystem for electric growth. Mobility has jumped even to existing auto majors and has begun to introduce vehicles across the two-wheeler division. Investment in this space – VC (Venture Capitalist) and the industry has multiplied in the last few years. Recent incidents of battery fires, especially in electric two-wheelers, however, have cast a shadow over this promising growth and undo some of the good work that has been achieved so far. If safety is not taken care of, customers will lose faith in EV and an essential industry may face unlimited losses.
The underlying problem is not a mystery. Years of research into lithium-ion batteries have shed light on the root cause of battery fires: overuse of batteries without any safety cut-off points. In most cases of fire, excessive charging / excessive discharging of the battery and lack of heat management in the battery modules can be blamed for the escape from heat and eventually leading to explosion and fire.
Thermal escapees begin with a specific cell or group of cells that emit large amounts of energy from their structure. This can be due to various reasons ranging from wrong cell selection, mechanical failure, external / internal short circuit, overcharging or over-discharging and lack of heat management in the battery among others. The concept of a thermal runway is not new, nor is it that the Indian climate is extreme and temperatures in many Indian cities exceed 45 degrees Celsius in summer. It simply highlights the status of unsafe products on the market. Such new technologies require research and development efforts, especially in the automotive industry, and follow diligent testing and validation in representative situations, and it takes time. Events published in the market are the result of companies reducing testing and development time to quickly rollout products.
The good news is that solutions to these problems already exist, and several companies have successfully developed battery technology to address these issues at the design stage. These manufacturers have developed and installed smart battery packs with integrated thermal management systems that have been tested in representative Indian conditions and certified by AIS-156, the current EV battery test standards in India that are on par with worldwide follow-up.
It should also be noted that a number of international automotive brands, along with domestic cars, are successfully selling their electric four-wheelers in the country without the kind of unpleasant incidents that occur with two-wheelers, as evidenced by adequate attention in research. And such incidents of development can be avoided completely.
The Government of India has responded swiftly and directed an investigation into these incidents, and several companies have withdrawn on a large scale to address these issues and prevent further loss of life and property. The government is working on more regulations to ensure that battery makers pay adequate attention to quality control.
In order to spread electric mobility across the length and breadth of the country, consumers need to feel safe and secure in using these vehicles. OEM manufacturers must ensure that only such high-quality batteries go into their products so that the safety of the general public is not compromised and the speed of change towards electrical mobility is not hampered by such unfortunate events.
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