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Enabling energy security through innovation
One of India's largest manufacturers of lead-acid batteries, Amara Raja is keeping a close watch on emerging business opportunities, and is keen on enhancing its capabilities. Aspiring to be a part of the India growth story, Vikramadithya Gourineni, MD – Amara Raja Power System Ltd, spoke to Ashok Thakur, Chief Editor – ETN, about product development in the EV value chain, and investment in R&D to stay competitive.
Vikramadithya Gourineni, MD – Amara Raja
In keeping with the development in the e-mobility sector - specifically with a focus on 2W and 3W - and emerging business opportunities in this arena, what disruptions do you anticipate in your present product offerings?
We have seen promising opportunities coming up in the entire spectrum of e-mobility, not just limited to 2W and 3W. Along with product innovation, business and financial model innovations are also being implemented. This is all good for the industry, and we are currently working on developing products in the EV value chain: lithium ion battery packs, charging stations, on-board electronics and software solutions.
We have already developed and released several variants of Li-ion battery packs for 2W and 3W. We are developing innovative solutions around thermal management so that our battery packs are future-ready for high power, high range applications. Our battery packs will be more intelligent in future with lot of data points being embedded into battery pack through BMS. We have also developed high efficiency and high energy density off-board chargers and charging stations. We see that there is lot to contribute towards on-board electronics where efficiency, reliability, footprint and weight are so critically important. We are working in this direction to design on-board electronics with SiC and GaN devices to stand futuristic.
The prime minister has called for a long-term roadmap for all futuristic technologies. In a scenario like that RD&D will play a big role in all development; how is Amara Raja geared to enhance its capabilities?
There is no doubt R&D is very important to develop enduring solutions and to stay competitive in emerging markets like EV. Amara Raja is no exception for this and innovation being the core of our value systems, we are investing into enhancing our capabilities. We are setting up our own cell manufacturing unit at R&D pilot level. We have formed a dedicated EV cell within the group with complementing capabilities to work on lithium cell, battery packaging, chargers and software solutions. About 50 engineers are working for this segment.
For an effective EV transition, a need to create an effective ecosystem is imperative. What is your take on the current state of e-mobility infrastructure in the country and government's role in its promotion? Could anything further be done to speed up deployment?
There is a mixed feedback on this. While e-mobility infrastructure is important to the progress of EV, what I feel is that if right trigger points are available then building ecosystems is not new to India. We have seen how telecom and RE infrastructure proliferated in the country. Industry has always been ready to take up the challenges. It is good to see that the intent of the government is in right direction and I am sure that it will be able to bring out appropriate policies in the meantime.
Niti Aayog has started drafting policies around Li-ion battery manufacturing. They are addressing a lot of our issues but we still have to work along with it and the government, to make sure that we have all our concerns addressed.
"We have excellent engineering talent here in India that can be channelized to become the design house for the world. I feel India can embrace a design-led approach where if not 'Made in India', everything starts to be 'Designed in India'."
What according to you will be the next revolutionary idea we will see take shape in the e-mobility sphere? Will it be from RE integration, battery innovation, or manufacturing?
Revolutionary ideas may come in the form of business models also. Technically, product solutions are already available and what is important is you reach the right inflection points. As to what will drive towards this point, it could be a right cost structure or even a right business model.
I think it will take a decades-long journey for India to become a manufacturing titan the scale of China, but we have excellent engineering talent here in India that can be channelized to become the design house for the world. I feel India can embrace a design-led approach where if not 'Made in India', everything starts to be 'Designed in India'; we can have a very competitive advantage.
What are the factors that can drive battery manufacturing for EVs in India and what you see as hurdles?
Nearly 60 percent of investment that goes into EV is actually towards cell manufacturing. With such high stakes on investments, timing is very important. If we are too early then we will be burdened with interest rates and if we are too late, we may miss the bus.
There are plenty of players in India who are keen to find a way into this game and they have the capability to invest, but not many will invest if there are no immediate markets or demand drivers within India, or some way to ensure that volumes are being procured locally.
The government is talking about 50GW, what I am keen to see is what is being done to create a demand worth that much. Without the demand coming in the short term, it would not be the right time to put that kind of capex down today. On the other hand, even if we were to put up globally competitive 5 to 10GW factories in India, the materials are all coming from abroad and those supply chains are not well-established for countries other than China. Even if one can put up a 5GW factory, how can one ensure that 5GW worth of lithium, cobalt and nickel is reaching the factory for production.
There are some initiatives but they need to be refined a bit. The government needs to give the sort of confidence that if 50GW factories are built in India, then 50GW worth of material is going to be made available to manufacturers. I think they are on the right path; we just have to keep working at it. it's a collaborative process with all the interested parties. I do believe India should make the lithium cell in the country, and we do want to play a role in that. But it is important to make investments at the right intervals, and till that time we may continue to import cells and make battery packs in India.
Considering that imported cells constitute the major cost of batteries for EVs, what has been your company's progress with respect to production of batteries and battery technology, and its applications? How will/are you addressing the cost dynamics? Any new collaborations?
Till the time there are enough volumes in India to enable setting up cell manufacturing in India, a strategic tie-up with established cell manufacturers will help meet current Indian demand. We are exploring partnerships and are in touch with a select few, before we can announce anything on new collaborations.
Developing domestic manufacturing ecosystem and capability is critical for the successful scale-up of EV adoption in India. We have been slow in picking up opportunities in the domestic manufacturing of consumer electronics and solar panels. As a nation, we can't afford it in EV components and Li cells are critical for energy security for India. Getting the right scale at the right time is strategically important to make successful and rewarding investments in the EV battery manufacturing sector. So is adopting future proof technology choices, and this is where global technology partnerships will play an enabling role. For Amara Raja Group this is critical strategic consideration and we will make the right decisions and at the right time.
Amara Raja is one of the organisations that supports the Global Battery Alliance's guiding principles for a responsible, sustainable battery chain by 2030… what has been your efforts in applying these principles that include fostering battery-enabled RE integration, and also high-quality job creation and skills development?
Increasingly, the circular economy model is becoming important for sustainable development and green energy foot print. With increasing adoption of advanced battery technologies in EV and ESS applications globally, the WEF has recognized the importance of establishing a framework for effective circular economy model for EV and ES batteries as well.
Fortunately, lead-acid batteries lend themselves very amenably for recycling, both technically and commercially. However, in developing countries like India, lead recycling is still not being done in a completely safe and environment-friendly manner. There are many reasons, and the unorganized grey market players are one of the key reasons behind informal recycling operations that do not conform to the established environmental standards, and are responsible for lead leakage.
The principles and commitments as articulated by the GBA would provide a framework for implementation of a scalable and sustainable approach for faster adoption of smart energy solutions for a greener future. Amara Raja has partnered in the GBA to bring the best practices in recycling, reuse, repair and refurbishment of battery systems.
"We recognize that energy storage technologies are transforming into more advanced chemistries, and this is also opening up opportunities to converge new capabilities from digitally enabled technologies"
Amara Raja saw a foray into the products for the auto industry when your uncle took over… to establish a foothold in an area that was already entrenched by another leading company, was a big step. Now with you - the third generation - in the business, what changes or expansion plans can we expect?
For a period of more than three decades since Amara Raja Group was founded, we have assiduously planned our growth focus on businesses that adhere to our core purpose that lays emphasis on bringing transformation, creating positive social impact, and bringing more opportunities for people. We have always been alive to the changing business environment and looked for bridging gaps in the market place by leveraging global technologies that could be responsibly adopted for providing products and solutions that meet or exceed the customer requirements in the markets that we operate. This has paid rich dividends.
Three decades down the line, we are a much stronger organization with best practices across our business systems, and endowed with the strong commitment of 16000+ Amara Raja family of employees. We recognize that energy storage technologies are transforming into more advanced chemistries, and this is also opening up opportunities to converge new capabilities from digitally enabled technologies. We will continue to pursue opportunities arising out of vertical and horizontal integration of business lines and aspire to actively contribute to the India growth story.
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