Collaboration vital to drive Make in India EV tech story
India has proved her frugal engineering prowess on many occasions. the Mangalyaan mission being the best showcase. In the automotive industry too, there are examples like the Tata Nano which caught the attention of the global industry and media. Dr Kumar believes that it is possible to build a prototype of a fully indigenised complete system for EVs, provided there is a combined effort by all stakeholders.
While the above-mentioned projects take shape in IIT Guwahati, it is learnt that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has indigenously developed lithium-ion batteries and there are some serious developments on ultra capacitor and super capacitor technology taking place at the Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute (CMERI), not to mention the R&D efforts in the laboratories of other such institutions, which the electric mobility industry can greatly benefit from.
For an industry which is yet to get on its feet, collaboration is key for technology development, growth and sustainability. “If all these technologies are put together, then we will truly have a made-in-India story. Not only that but actually something that is conceived, conceptualised, design and developed in India,” says Dr Kumar.
Participation of vehicle OEMs and suppliers is crucial for the R&D and engineering efforts to move in the right direction. Researchers may be developing certain systems and technologies but some of them are ‘missing’ the complete knowledge of the full electric vehicle. On the other hand, OEMs and suppliers are looking for more cost-effective solutions to grow the market. This is where industry players can help researchers as well as provide support in the prototyping stage as well as in funding research which could yield good returns in the future.
Is India ready for electric vehicles?
Electronics is a key area of interest for Dr Kumar, who has had a stint in an AVL Group company in Germany before joining IIT Guwahati in 2009. Not surprising then that he is playing a key role in the development of technologies that the electric mobility industry would also benefit from. But there is an argument that in a country like India, where electricity is generated mainly at coal-based thermal power plants, electric vehicles do not look a good bet if one looks at the well-to-wheel picture.
Dr Kumar sees it as a valid argument but also counters it by saying, “Today, the transportation system depends on petroleum products. We produce domestically maybe 20 percent of our demand (of fossil fuels). But if we shift to electricity, we can generate electricity using thermal, nuclear, hydel, wind, gas and solar. All that becomes fuel for a vehicle. So, we diversify the portfolio of fuels that we have to drive a vehicle. That’s a big advantage. Not just efficiency of well-to-wheel but the variety of fuels we can use to drive a vehicle. That’s a big bonus. I think that’s the argument.” The Indian government’s strong focus on developing renewable energy like solar power would also make people like Dr Kumar more hopeful about electric mobility.
As for the ride in a bus with technologies like super capacitors and contactless charging that are currently under development at IIT Guwahati, the day may not be too far away. Some OEMs have expressed interest in them at the Make in India Week held in Mumbai in February 2016.