‘There cannot be one single silver bullet for all kinds of needs and applications’: Akshay Singhal
Akshay Singhal, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Log9 Materials tells Autocar Professional how the company is aiming to become self-sustainable in the area of lithium cell technologies in two years.
Electric Vehicles and batteries powering them are under the spotlight frequently as there’s a race to produce the best solution when it comes to cell chemistries. The technical challenges are abundant and there’s no single solution as tech companies and start-ups are busy finding ways to get the best in place. It’s a constantly evolving area of business where innovation is playing a key role. Bengaluru-based deep-tech battery start-up Log9 Materials has proved that it is no stranger to innovation and has an open mind and deep commitment in developing battery chemistries. Importantly, it has found success in the area that matters most — making lithium cells in India. Akshay Singhal, Co-Founder and CEO, Log9 Materials describes the journey so far.
Log9 started its journey with aluminium air batteries, and now the majority of your business comes from lithium-ion batteries. So, what prompted this shift in strategy?
One of the biggest turning points was our own understanding of the fact that there cannot be one single silver bullet for all kinds of requirements and applications in the market. Certain applications are classified, and they have a distinguished need.
Aluminium air is very similar to hydrogen fuel cells, so we call them aluminium fuel cells. The aluminium fuel cell is a constant power machine, but the load is not constant. As the load requirements kept fluctuating, we needed a battery bank to channel and store that energy.
So, we also started manufacturing a battery bank that is made of lithium. And in the process, we realised that we have built the expertise in the lithium domain as well. In order to manage it, you need a battery bank to channel that energy to take on extra loads and store the energy. We were also manufacturing this battery bank, which is made of lithium. We understood that we are actually good at it and that it could solve the existing problems of the EV market.
What kind of supply chain challenges did you face in the beginning?
The supply chain was the biggest challenge, as was the availability of material equipment and everything, talent is the second problem, and technology is the third problem in the level of complexity of solving these issues.
When we were setting up this line, the other challenge was the availability of equipment in the domestic market, as we didn't have anybody who made equipment to manufacture cells in the country. So, we have to be dependent on other countries for this. Unfortunately, our plant work coincided with the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, so searching for equipment providers, arranging for operators, and getting equipment customised to our profession and design was also a big task. We were doing all this in the middle of the lockdown.
Additionally, there was no material provider in the country, so how do you compete with Unicore, BASF, and Cell Guard, who supply big battery makers. It was difficult to get them interested in the company, which has not started anything. And, at the same time operating in a geography where it has never happened before.
Last but not the least, scouting for talent for a business that is getting introduced in the country for the first time was quite difficult. The primary concerns were to create the technology and optimise the process to scale the talent. We have worked really hard just to have the fundamental skills to talk to advisors internationally to get that skill set and domain knowledge. We worked on these challenges over the last two years to be able to put together the line that has come alive today.
Can you shed some light on the kind of investment done in the past, and what is the capex you are planning for the near term?
We have already invested an initial amount of Rs 100 crore in establishing the cell plant. Every gigawatt hour is a US$ 150 million investment. When you go to a scale that requires 10-25 GW of capacity, it will cost around Rs 700-800 crore per gigawatt. With a larger capacity, the per gigawatt cost of setting it up keeps going down.
So, to go further to the 50MW line to the gigawatt factory and then to a multi-gigawatt factory, it will require additional investments to be made, which will be in the range of Rs 2,000-Rs 2,300 crore in the coming years. We are here to create confidence by creating the technology needed for the Indian markets.
We already have the battery pack capacity, which stands at 250 MW/hr. Obviously, there is a disparity, and we cannot satisfy the battery pack demand from our own cell production. We will continue to import cells until we are able to scale cell manufacturing to a gigawatt per
This is a journey that we have to cover in another two years. By 2025-2026 we will be self-sustainable in terms of our cell requirements. We are committed to deploying 1,000 vehicles on the road this year with India made lithium battery cells.
You have also announced a slew of partnerships recently. Can you explain the benefits of such partnerships?
We joined hands with deep-tech startup Chara for electric vehicle powertrains.
Bengaluru-based Chara manufactures cloud-controlled electric vehicle motors free of toxic rare-earth metals, thus cutting a massive dependency on imports to accelerate electric mobility in India. With them, our focus will be to localise the complete supply chain of electric vehicles.
Our other partner is C-DAC that has great capabilities in the power electronics side like switches, converters etc.
We are helping to take their technologies from the lab to the market.
With Bosch, we are working on blockchain-based architectures to upscale consumers' confidence in the electric vehicles network. The idea is to maximise utilisation of electric vehicles in areas like financing, driver behaviour, charging infrastructure, insurance, and warranties. We opine that unless all these hurdles are resolved, the demand for electric vehicles cannot be managed properly, and we will not be able to provide a positive customer experience and ensure their success.
Can you specify the areas where Log9 and Amara Raja are working together?
We are a partner in Amara Raja's gigafactory plan. They have committed Rs 9,500 crore for setting up the gigafactory in Telangana, and we are the technology partner for that. We have a very close-knit relationship with them in scaling up cell manufacturing in India.
We believe the demand is going to be phenomenal. By 2030 we will have more than 300 GW/hr of battery pack capacity requirements in the country. No company can do it alone in an ecosystem that is still nascent. We have to work with partners who have done battery manufacturing at scale previously.
On the commercial side we have recently bagged an order for supplying these battery packs for 10,000 units of Omega Seiki Mobility's e3Ws.
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