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Inside German automaker’s plans to reuse EV batteries in India

Electric mobility has been gaining widespread adoption across global markets, with many automotive firms now directing their R&D towards innovation in this space. One of them is German automaker Audi, which is looking for ways to extend battery usage in electric cars.

Audi has joined hands with an Indo-German startup Nunam to explore how modules made with high-voltage batteries can be reused after their car life cycle and have a viable second-life use case.

EV batteries get second life

Nunam plans to achieve this by launching a pilot of three electric rickshaws on Indian roads that will be powered by used batteries taken from the powertrain of test vehicles in the Audi e-Tron lineup which currently features the e-Tron SUV, e-Tron Sportback coupe SUV, and e-Tron GT sedan.

This non-profit startup is based out of Berlin and Bengaluru and has been funded by the Audi Environmental Foundation (AEF) since 2019. AEF was founded by the German marque in 2009 to raise awareness among the public about environmental protection and sustainability Audi’s partnership with Nunam makes it the first joint project between AEF and Audi AG.

Founded by Prodip Chatterjee and Darshan Virupaksha in 2019, the startup has developed three prototypes of e-rickshaws in collaboration with the training team at Audi’s Neckarsulm site in Germany. These e-rickshaws powered by second-life batteries are expected to hit Indian roads as part of the pilot project by early 2023.

The project is also aimed at strengthening job opportunities in India, particularly for women who will be provided with e-rickshaws for the transportation of goods. The e-rickshaws will be made available to a non-profit organisation enabling women to use them as means of last-mile delivery service without the need for intermediaries.

Numan engineers working On re-used batteries

Reusing e-waste

Nunam co-founder Prodip said in a statement,

“The old batteries are still extremely powerful. When used appropriately, second-life batteries can have a huge impact, helping people in challenging life situations earn an income and gain economic independence – everything in a sustainable way.”

The primary goal of the startup is to develop ways to use old batteries as second-life power storage systems, thus both extending their lives and using resources more efficiently. It aims to provide clean and affordable energy to communities in need.

Nunam said it found e-rickshaws to be perfect proponents for such used second-life batteries since they have a comparatively low vehicle weight. In addition, electric motors powering the wheels of a rickshaw do not need to be very powerful since rickshaw drivers in India travel neither fast nor far.

Although electric rickshaws are not an uncommon sight on Indian roads any longer, most of them are currently powered by toxic lead-acid batteries that have a relatively short service life and are often not disposed of properly. Further, rickshaw drivers currently charge their vehicles with public grid electricity where the primary source of power is coal.

Nunam has devised a solution for this as well. The e-rickshaws running on second-life batteries will be charged using power from solar charging stations. Solar panels will be installed on the roofs of the local partner’s premises. Audi says that the e-Tron battery will be used as a buffer storage unit which means that these electric rickshaws are likely to be equipped with some form of battery swapping technology.

The e-rickshaw with re-used batteries

Battery cycle continues

Even after the battery has spent its first life in an Audi e-Tron and its second in an e-rickshaw, it’s not the end of the road. These batteries can further be used for a third life cycle to power stationary applications such as LED lighting. In this way, Nunam intends to extract as much as possible out of each battery before recycling.

In addition to the prototypes being developed for roads in India, trainees at the Neckarsulm site have developed a show rickshaw in cooperation with Nunam. This prototype will be displayed to visitors at Greentech Festival in Berlin and will also be available for test rides.

Audi technicians charging the e-rickshaw

The EV market

According to a report by IBEF, the global share of EVs by volume reached 8.3 percent in 2021. Close to 320,000 electric vehicles were sold in India in 2021, growing by 168 percent year on year. As per India Energy Storage Alliance, the Indian EV industry is expected to expand at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 36 percent.

While the selling point for electric vehicles (EVs) is that they are much cleaner than their fossil-fueled counterparts, they are also more expensive—making up around 32 percent of the overall cost of the vehicle on average (according to Statista), primarily because of the huge cost of batteries

This is because the challenge of recycling or reusing the batteries remains large primarily due to constraints in storage, treatment and disposal. While India currently lacks a commercial-scale recycling system, a report by Earthshare estimates that recycling could meet as much as 25 percent and 35 percent of the industry’s lithium and cobalt needs, respectively.

The Global EV Battery Recycling and Reuse forum estimates that as EV batteries reach the end of service, they can still store 70 percent of their original capacity, which makes them eligible for a second life. This is why many automobile companies, including Tesla, Ford, Redwood, and Ford are investing a chunk of their resources in finding ways to reduce, reuse and recycle waste generated from electric mobility.

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