Batteries play a very important role when it comes to modern-day electric cars, but managing them is not an easy task. It is here that Battery Management and Battery intelligence Systems come into play. But how do these systems work and what are the various intricacies involved in their functioning? Also in India, where electric cars are still a newfound concept, does Battery Management Systems have a bigger role to play? Akhil Aryan, Co-Founder and CEO, ION Energy, in a detailed interaction with Express Drives, explains what exactly Battery Management and Intelligence Systems are. He also sheds light on how the these technologies work in the Indian context and what does the future hold.
On what Battery Management and Battery Intelligence Systems are:
In general, for batteries, there are 3 components for energy storage. Cell manufacturing, which is the battery cells that the government wants India to manufacture. A pack manufacturing business, where the cells are bought and most of them are imported from China today. So manufacturers buy the cells and assemble it into a battery pack. So a cell will typically look like a double-A battery and they put it together in a battery pack. This will be in different shapes and sizes depending on the application it is built for. So both of these are commoditized business, which means that if I can buy a cell from LG, anyone can, there is no differentiation between us at the cell level. Now, when it comes to packaging a battery pack if a person makes a battery pack that looks like a rectangle, so can I, so there is no differentiation at the cell level nor at the pack manufacturing level. The differentiation lies at how the battery pack is managed, which is where the Battery Management System (BMS) comes in.
It is an electronic board which acts as the brain of the battery pack. Now, that’s the technology and product which ION Energy has. Today batteries are very expensive and complex and there are safety concerns around it. You can’t build a lithium-ion battery without a BMS and every battery has a BMS. What ION focuses on is making sure that BMS which is built is reliable, accurate and cost-efficient. So, that’s one business unit. The other business unit is Battery Intelligence, which is how we can leverage data on how the battery is being used towards trying to figure out how long the battery will last. For example - Today, if both of us buy an electric vehicle (EV), depending upon how we use it, the life of the battery will degrade depending on that. Let's say you are the personal user who drives to work and then let the vehicle rest for some hours, then you drive back home and charge the vehicle at night. Comparatively, if I am an Uber/Ola driver, who is continuously using the car, discharging the car or charging the car, I would like to fast charge it on the road because I can’t afford downtime. So depending on the usage pattern, the battery life will differ. Being able to leverage the usage patterns to tweak how the BMS is configured based on the user, is what a Battery Intelligence platform does and this is what ION does.
On how cloud computing enhances a BMS:
BMS is also a critical component of differentiation among automotive OEMs. This is why a lot of OEMs want to have a strategic partnership or their own in-house development or some sort of strategic angle on the BMS. Because the cell and the pack are not different, so OEMs want to differentiate themselves based on how fast the battery pack can charge, how long will it last, how many kms will it deliver? All of that is managed by the BMS. Another critical piece which is a huge challenge in India today, when you think about EVs is because of the lack of infrastructure there is already anxiety as to where will I charge. But let's assume, the infrastructure exists, will the charge also be available? So you don’t know if it will be available or not, which is another level of anxiety. The third level of anxiety is the riskiest of all, which is an inaccurate representation of DTE i.e. Distance To Empty. If today I am driving the car and it says it will go 50 kms, what is the guarantee that the 50km is actually 50? That calculation is also done by the BMS by converting the same battery capacity into a unit of kms which is in voltage.
But DTE doesn’t just depend on the battery, it depends on the traffic, terrain and various other factors as well. So 2 vehicles in Delhi & Mumbai with the same voltage and battery capacity can have different distances. There has to be a lot of intelligence that is baked into the BMS and it has to have some opportunistic re-calibration. Most companies today when they deploy a BMS or a battery pack which has a BMS inside and they deploy that, if there is no connectivity of that battery with some intelligent cloud, you can’t re-calibrate that BMS ever again. Typically a battery will be made in an OEM factory, then the OEM will deploy it in different cities, but they all will have the same algorithms. The DTE will differ in cities, so those algorithms need to be re-calibrated over the use of BMS, this is where battery intelligence and battery management come together. Where there is a local collection of data at the battery management level but at the cloud level, this data comes, it’s re-calibrated and whenever the vehicle connects again to the cloud, you can recalibrate the BMS. These are few challenges that exist today like DTE, but being able to have a direct relationship between something local which is inside the battery but has more computing power in the cloud, the computation can be done at the cloud and opportunistically re-calibrated with the edge which is called as edge computing. This is the scope of what ION Energy participates in.
Edison Analytics, an Advanced Battery Intelligence Platform for EVs & ESS, recently introduced by ION Enerwill help users accelerate deployment speed, improve uptime and extend battery life by up to 40%. Our objective is to help companies make data-driven decisions and eliminate the wasted time trying to make sense from the CSV files that they are currently collecting and opening in Excel. Edison Analytics will leapfrog teams working on building batteries into a future where advanced visualization, automated suggestions are driven by ML & AI will reveal insights from their data securely and scalably. Using proprietary SIL & MIL (Model in Loop) simulations, we will also help companies choose the right chemistry and plan capacity resulting in reduced costs and a greater ROI through all the stages of the battery life cycle. Governments across the globe are accelerating the clean mobility and EV adoption, and as batteries are the most important and costly asset in an EV, we’re taking a long-term bet on leveraging data towards improving battery life and performance. This is the core of Edison’s Battery Intelligence platform.
On the Government's push for electric mobility in India:
In the last 2 years, a lot of acceleration has happened, mostly in the commercial space. This acceleration is significant and a huge contribution goes to the government. Large OEMs are asking for time to transition as they have recently shifted from BS-IV to BS6. For the BS-VI transition, they have invested a lot of money into R&D, they need time to recover the money before they start investing in EVs. But the government is clear and want EVs to be the next big deal. They want the industry to adopt the policy and not the other way around. The idea is clear i.e. to get rid of the dependence on fossil fuels and become clean and green. The government is taking that stance and even the larger OEMs who were waiting are now moving. Different OEMs have different speeds of movement, some are more aggressive than others. But even the small to midsize OEMs are moving. They all want to find some angle on BMS.
GST, is one of the biggest moves as policies like that are the representation of the commitment of your government. It’s the representation of your core belief and the core belief is that India is going for an all-electric future. The government wants to accelerate that transition to become all-electric. The fundamental core beliefs of the policymakers have resulted in the GST rate cut. This, in turn, is resulting in setting targets for the automotive OEMs, by when they have to move to all-electric. I feel the government is very clear about that movement. One challenge we have which is being overcome with government initiatives is making sure that whenever there is disruption when you are moving from a significant technology to another, there is an opportunity and disruption creates this opportunity. Which means that when you are transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy, we have to make sure as a country that we don’t land up shifting the dependency from the Middle East to somewhere else. It would mean that we shifted the dependency and not become self-sufficient. This thought process which already exists, like what the country is trying to do with Bulgaria for lithium resources or emphasis on cell manufacturing in India, is not just for battery pack assembling, those are the things which show the intent of the government is not just to accelerate to an all-electric future but to do that in a way, our dependency on the 3rd party sources reduces.
On what does the future hold:
Today, ION Energy has a role to play in the battery life and in battery management. But moving forward when these EVs and energy storages become commercially available, the common narrative that we believe in is that battery life and performance will be the mode that will differentiate the companies. Today, even if you think about consumer electronics, battery life is a big part of the marketing play. Eg: mobile phones makers tell that the phone will give you 7 hrs battery life, someone else will say that they will give you 20 hrs, which is a big deal. The ability to fast charge your phone, to be able to charge wirelessly, everything to do with battery and charging is an important factor. Even in consumer electronics like phones and laptops, it’s a big deal. But when it comes to bigger applications, because the investment is higher, the impact of battery life and battery performance on customer’s trust on a brand will significantly increase over time.
Which means if you spend Rs 50 lakhs on an all-electric BMW and on the dashboard it says it will go for 70kms but after 50 it stops, it is a big concern. On your phone, if the battery drops from 70% to 60%, it’s fine because you put it on a USB charger. But in a car, it is not acceptable. The expectation of that customer from the brand and the brand images takes a hit. Today, for the cars available in India, what they show in their marketing material and what actually happens is very different. If we are going to create a fleet of EVs or batteries at swapping stations, those batteries have a life, the business of swapping is actually the business of the battery life. If you can extend the life of a battery you can use the asset more and extract more value from the same investment. Effectively, the large thesis for ION Energy is that the battery life and performance will become the key differentiator and the critical factor in the next 3-5 years when batteries become more and more commercial.
All of our technology today, whether software or electronics or hardware, gears towards becoming battery health experts and battery performance experts. We want to be able to deliver the technology stack on an electronic and software level that help companies compete with the likes of Tesla. It has taken 14 years for Tesla to get to where they are and they have invested billions of dollars to get there. But today if you look at the policies and reality, most OEMs don’t have 14 years to reach that position. They need to get there faster and they will need technologies to help them get there.