It was our immense pleasure to talk to Mr. Rajat Verma, Lohum CEO and founder, who wants to revolutionize battery technology in India. His efforts mostly envision a future where battery-powered vehicles have reached price parity with conventional petrol and diesel vehicles. Here is the entire interview with the Lohum CEO Mr. Rajat Verma.[Please note that this article has been edited for length and clarity]
India’s Road To Electric Vehicles Is Long And Full Of Opportunities
What’s the story behind Lohum? How exactly it came to be?
It has been evident for a while that global electrification was going to produce a large stream of used lithium-ion batteries. With a background in electronic waste recycling and material extraction, I knew there was immense value in extracting the battery materials.
The historical challenge with battery recycling, however, has been profitability. We initially focused on developing a low-cost, profitable material extraction solution. Then we developed a battery testing capability to determine how much capacity was remaining in each battery and if there was a way to re-use the good cells before material extraction.
This led to us producing battery packs for low-power mobility and storage applications. Synergies started emerging between our material extraction and re-use or 2nd life battery pack capabilities.
And lastly, our 1st life battery pack capability with new cells was borne out of customer demand because our re-use capability enabled us to pass-on material cost savings to the customer through buy-back.
Together these pieces create a life cycle solution that enables us to lower the battery cost to customers at every stage of its life cycle. It is the most sustainable model for batteries, but it also unlocks the fastest path to EV adoption and increases OEM profitability by lowering the battery costs.
What potential do you see in the market for recycled lithium-ion batteries?
By 2024 the forecast is greater than 500,000 metric tons of lithium-ion batteries entering the used battery channel and the market will increase rapidly thereafter since it’s still very early now.
One can evaluate the potential through two quick examples. The first example is that 500,000 metric tons equate to over 10 billion batteries so through recycling we can provide materials for roughly 10 billion new batteries and not have to take those resources from the earth.
The second example is that a large portion of these batteries can be re-used with the right technology. For example, if we assume fifty percent of these cells are still good then that equates to enough batteries to power almost 12 million e-rickshaws and recycle the remaining fifty percent to provide the materials for over 5 billion batteries.
Technology can unlock the tremendous potential to make batteries and their materials last longer and reduce the cost of mobility and stationary storage.
How The Magic Happens?
How exactly does Lohum recover recyclable materials from used batteries?
We developed a mechanical hydrometallurgical process for our recycling of both the cathode and anode materials. The major sequences are-
1) Pre-treatment process to ensure batteries are inert prior to shredding
2) Mechanical separation process through shredding to expose the electrode material
3) Dissolution process to separate the cathode and anode material from the foils
4) Leaching process whereby acids are used to dissolve the valuable metals into solution
5) Precipitation process to produce the final stage of sulfates or oxides.
For the common folks
As a common EV enthusiast, what should excite me about your venture?
Three main things-
1) Our technologies can lower battery packs costs significantly without sacrificing performance and this is the key to India’s EV future.
2) We are focused on the greatest near-term potential for massive EV adoption – 2 and 3 wheeler battery packs. With these two products, India can be the 2nd largest EV market outside China.
3) Our recycling technology creates battery materials production capability without traditional mining or domestic material reserves.
Do you see Lohum playing a vital role in accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles in India?
Lohum’s battery pack and material extraction technologies are among the most advanced across the globe. Certainly, a key role is to create solutions that advance EV adoption in India and its electric manufacturing ecosystem.
But our overall goal is to create solutions that accelerate electric mobility and stationary storage applications in every part of the globe.
The biggest hurdle, according to you, for India on its path towards electrification?
There are 2 major hurdles. The first and biggest obstacle is cost. Though battery prices continue to decrease and the EV total cost of ownership is already at parity or below ICE alternatives, the upfront cost is still an obstacle.
That’s why we focused on developing battery life cycle solutions to lower the cost. For example, we are able to offer a 20% buy-back on battery packs because we understand their residual value and have the ability to maximize it after the initial use through recycling.
The second hurdle is developing a battery and EV ecosystem in India versus relying on foreign firms. Not only does domestic production reduce costs, but it positions India better in the long-term as an advanced manufacturing hub in a key strategic industry.
Should India adopt hybrid vehicles before moving to BEVs (battery electric vehicles)?
If India wants to assume a global leadership position in a strategic industry, it should focus on BEVs for two reasons. The first is that BEVs represent the future of the mobility industry. With less than 2% of BEV penetration globally there is a huge opportunity for India, especially with its ability to start with 2 wheeler and 3 wheeler mobility similar to the way China evolved.
The second reason is that we have to solve the problem of pollution. Focusing on the more mature hybrid technology is a half-baked solution for pollution and it won’t facilitate a technology leap. Our future demands we go all-in with BEV technology now.
The biggest breakthrough in the EV space and how can India leverage it?
2nd life technology likely will be the single biggest breakthrough in truly accelerating EV adoption, especially in India. There is a huge portion of low-power mobility and stationary storage applications that can utilize used batteries to achieve the same performance but with a battery pack cost reduction of at least 30%.
Any future plans to develop an Indian made EV?
We currently design and fabricate our battery packs in India and our focus has been supplying battery packs to OEMs creating 2 wheeler and 3 wheeler products. This is our core business. We are, however, in the R&D stage of developing an electric bicycle.
It is very difficult to get the battery pack costs low enough, and we are really excited about how our technology can solve this problem to open up a very large electric mobility segment. We think an affordable electric bicycle could really change tens of millions of lives in cities and rural parts of India.
Predictions for the future of battery tech in India?
It’s up to us – entrepreneurs, government, and populous at large. There is a unique opportunity for India if it decides to act. There is no historical example of India having the chance to become a major player in prior industry shifts at the beginning.
We have this opportunity with electrification, but we have to move or we will be beholden to foreign firms. The government through FAME II is helping.
Covid-19 also has increased awareness around anti-pollution and the benefits of electrifying mobility. But we must act now as a collective to change our future regarding jobs, pollution, and overall global competitiveness.
About Lohum Inc
Lohum Inc is a new age and innovative battery lifecycle solutions company. It aims to help India’s transition to electric vehicles through an approach that promotes local manufacturing and recycling of different battery products.