India's Right To Win The Race Of Electric Mobility: R&D Is The Key

Siddhartha Mukhopadhyay, Professor - Dept. of Electrical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, KharagpurIIT Kharagpur is a top-notch engineering institution established by the Government of India which offers all the major engineering, science, humanities and many other disciplines.

The Key Point
The Government of India is decisively moving towards large-scale introduction of electric mobility in the country, to reduce green house gases & emission, the oil import bill, as well as to kickstart manufacturing. India has a substantial market and manufacturing base for conventional vehicles. However, except for the introduction of some three-wheeler auto rickshaws, the penetration of EVs in the Indian market is not significant. India lags behind in being competitive in value-for-money propositions and its lack of indigenous technology base for key xEV (acronym for all variants of EVs like HEVs, BEVs, PHEVs and so on) subsystems. Across the world, vehicles are being launched, however, these are yet to be found on the Indian roads because the customer expectations and technology challenges for India's road transportation system are unique & stiff. This article looks at these issues and argues that, to quickly move-up the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of Indian EV technologies; the key is to launch vigorous indigenous R&D.

Our Powertrain Needs: Sasta, Sundar & Tikau
The two major deterrents of large-scale adoption of xEVs in India are their higher price than comparable ICE vehicles and the absence of ubiquitous charging infrastructure. The second factor is being addressed by some of the energy PSUs, among others who are making plans to setup charging stations across the country. There is not too much of a technology challenge and, if demand comes-up, it is a matter of time before these would come-up too. However, serious technology challenge exists in improving the price-performance ratio of xEVs to the point that the Indian market needs. Below we discuss briefly the technology challenges for the three main subsystems that constitute the major part of an xEV powertrain, apart from the Engine, which exists for HEVs.

The three major technology components of a Li-Ion automotive battery are the battery cells, the battery pack, including cooling and the Battery Management System (BMS) for charge and temperature. Worldwide, there is intense on-going R&D effort in improving battery
system parameters like energy and power density, life, safety and cost. While such issues also need to be investigated by India, there are typical R&D challenges, specifically for batteries in India that need quick focus, such as (1) Development of India cells for high temperature uncooled operations in Indian 2W/3W EVs. (2) Battery pack design with thermal & humidity management, high current busbars with dissimilar metal welded joints, cell level maintainability and so on.

Motor & Drive
Numerous types of motor drives have been used in automotive applications. Permanent Magnet (PM) based drives have the best torque-weight ratio, but geographically highly skewed availability of PM material poses various concerns. Induction Motor (IM) drives are among the most robust and yet, automotive grade efficiency requirement demands specialized & costly rotor manufacturing. Switched Reluctance Motor drives (SRM) are low cost, robust and free of PM. However, their torque and noise performance need improvement for drivability and comfort in some applications. The cost of power electronic devices such as IGBTs used for drive electronics is an issue. These drives may be subjected to frequent transient overloading in urban traffic and thus active thermal management and failure protection are important issues to be addressed through indigenous R&D.

The key to win the xEV challenge is to develop processes & establishments for focused & appropriate R&D to define, create and mature world-class technology solutions

Vehicle Control & Software
The Electronic Control Unit (ECU) deployed by OEMs is typically a black box from a handful of global Tier-I suppliers. Little R&D happens in the country. Little real-world data on traffic parameters, component ageing, failure and others is available. These would enable integrated control of battery, motor and transmission to enhance performance of the powertrain and reduce lifecycle cost. It can also provide USPs for customer acceptance, say, by adaptive multimode management of vehicles (eco, sport or standard modes) depending on customer choice and vehicle configuration.

Indian OEMs have initiated EV development, but have not met with significant success yet. Apart from a general lack of competency and experience to design customized EV subsystems, lack of a supply chain of cost-effective and quality subsystems is a major deterrent to EV development. Adopting proprietary imported technology drives-up lifecycle cost of xEV subsystems manyfold and thus indigenous product development is the only solution. The problem of cost-effective mass manufacturing to automotive standards is harder to solve, since it needs SMEs to adopt such manufacturing processes (like advanced welding for battery packs, in-situ magnetization of Internal PM rotors and others). Centers of Excellences (CoEs) need to be developed for R&D on design and manufacturing of xEV subsystems. These also must be integrated with SMEs for training, consultation, design and engineering support.

Right to Win
The key to win the xEV challenge is to develop pro-cesses & establishments for focused & appropriate R&D, as well as systems approach to engineering design and manufacturing quality in the country to define, create and mature world-class technology solutions involving all stakeholders of the xEV ecosystem. Apart from facilitating R&D, creating a supportive environment for inventions, innovation and design competencies to be nurtured and progressed is also essential. There is also a need to establish business models of investment, risk, knowledge, IP sharing for competitive and precompetitive phases, technology transfer, as well as to practice open engineering, particularly in precompetitive phases. We did it in space by indigenous R&D. We now need to do it on road with xEVs!