The adoption of electric vehicles has been on the rise in India. As per data from the Ministry of Heavy Industries, more than 27 lakh electric vehicles have been registered in the country as of July 2023 with Karnataka seeing the third highest number of registrations.
However, incidents of electric vehicles and battery swapping stations catching fire have been a cause of concern to consumers and potential users.
“Over the last year, more than 200 vehicles caught fire in India, primarily due to overcharging and overheating or short circuits. Batteries are not designed to withstand the abuse, and in the scenario where a cell bursts, the whole vehicle catches fire due to improper mitigation,” says Mohammed Shoeb Ali, co-founder and managing partner at Transition VC, an energy transition-focused venture capital fund.
Bengaluru-based startup EMO Energy may have a solution for it. Founded by Sheetanshu Tyagi and Rahul Patel, EMO Energy has developed a platform that combines software, hardware, cloud, and intelligence to improve the safety and life of batteries. Called ZEN, the platform targets battery usage in high-energy and high-power applications from electric two wheelers to agriculture to mining and construction.
Safety and life
“We realised that all these applications have the same kind of issues. One is safety,” says Mr. Tyagi.
“You are operating in high temperature, and you want batteries that charge fast, pull more power and are smaller in size. And then there’s the concern of life. While vehicles have a life of seven to eight years, every two to three years you are losing a battery,” he adds.
The team put together their heads to understand how they could enhance the performance of batteries and solve the existing problems around it.
“Initially we thought we would build a software system and take it to different original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and battery companies who could use it to improve the life and safety of their batteries,” remembers Mr. Tyagi.
But then they realized the existing hardware in the country wasn’t strong enough for it. Most systems where Chinese derivatives that were basic and poor in technology.
“China spends time in developing batteries for small scooters. India just scaled that to big scooters,” Tyagi says.
According to Mr Ali from Transition VC who is also an investor at EMO Energy there is a massive demand-supply gap between the battery pack manufacturers and OEMs. He notes that the industry lacks companies that give warranties for the pack as many of them import them from China.
“Customers face range anxiety, battery degradation and warranty issues due to lack of quality battery packs, and this becomes even worse in temperatures greater than 40 degrees Celsius,” he says.
Intelligent battery system
The team understood that to ensure the performance safety and battery life at a cost people expected, they have to build everything around the battery system from scratch. The startup, therefore, bought specific cells and built a mechanical system around it.
EMO Energy developed a fluid in which the cells would be immersed. The fluid transmits heat more efficiently, absorbs energy in case of a cell blast and prevents electricity transmission.
Mr. Tyagi notes just leaving the cells in the fluid does not serve the purpose. The fluid has to keep circulating in a very specific manner. It also needs to be ensured that the fluid rejects heat to the system and in case of a cell blasting open, it has to absorb the energy quickly and prevent it from reaching other cells. So, taking it one step further the company built a layer of intelligence around the fluid.
“We have sensors that monitor every single temperature and voltage across the system. That allows us to put more power, remove more heat and maintain temperature even if you are operating at higher temperature, all at an affordable cost. You can use the software to understand what is happening at a cell level, improve performance, predict safety issues and diagnose and fix them. All of these except the cells have been developed in-house,” Mr. Tyagi explains.
According to him, there are three layers to the software. One is the several sensors inside the battery. They communicate to a Battery Management System and through the cloud some of it gets transmitted to an app which the user can see.
“There is also another layer we offer to the fleet operators where they can see all drivers in a very detailed a map. The driver’s driving patterns and habits and the way they charge can drastically change a vehicle’s range. Our technology would allow to rank performances based on battery health,” he explains.
The system can be connected to a standardized three pin socket which would give 80 odd kilometres after 30 minutes of charging.
According to the company, about 300 systems have been sold so far. It claims to have orders to the tune of 40,000. “We are scaling up to 10,000 now, we are still in the process of becoming bigger,” Mr. Tyagi says.
Net zero goals
Depending on the quality of batteries, Lithium-ion batteries cost between ₹12,000 to above ₹20,000 per kWh in India today. EMO systems comes to around ₹17,000 per kWh.
“The objective for us is to maintain the performance-to-cost ratio. If somebody is looking at scale in the ₹15,000+ segment, we offer the highest lifecycle there. We provide more than 2,000 cycles for any kind of cell chemistry,” Mr. Tyagi notes.
With its direct thermal management system and in-house battery management system coupled with artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, Mr. Ali believes EMO Energy can not only offer customers the best product features at optimal prices but also help significantly reduce battery pack imports from China.
“EMO’s modular design approach enables them to scale them across multiple mobility applications such as two-wheeler, three-wheeler, and four-wheeler passenger and commercial vehicles and also across sectors such as energy storage for residential and commercial applications,” he notes.
The start-up claims to have done business of more than ₹5 crores now with a turnover of more than ₹40 lakhs every month. The company currently works with 10 clients and holds 16 patents.
Mr. Tyagi notes that the company aligns its plans with a net zero goal.
“We think in terms of building a battery system, using our software to improve its health, maximise its usage in vehicles, at the end of it put it in secondary storage in home applications, maximise the use there, then recycle it, take the cell material, work with cell companies to put that in their cells, then put that back in the battery,” he explains.
“That’s a very long chain and we are at step-1 today.”