Search is on for alternatives to lithium ion batteries

While the biggies are planning to invest, the revolution has started at startups



ALUMINIUM REACTS with oxygen to create power. Aluminium is converted into aluminium hydroxide, which can later be converted back to aluminium, thus providing an environment and pocket friendly circular ecosystem. The cells could be much lighter, too.

However, it still has issues like low power density. Ironically, aluminium was a focus for alternate cell chemistry even before lithium entered the picture, and India has an inherent advantage. “It is a less hazardous material, there is no scarcity of it and India is the world’s fifth largest producer,” said A.K. Prasada Rao, professor, BML Munjal University in Haryana. “We even generate a lot of scrap from automobile waste and we have the wherewithal to convert this into battery grade aluminium.”


SODIUM-ION AND solid-state cell chemistries are estimated to grow to more than 5 per cent of the global total by 2030,” said Pankaj Sharma of Log9. “The reason for the slow growth is the lack of chemistry know-how, scalability issues and commercial viability.”

That could change in the coming years. Sodium as a likely battery option faces issues ranging from its reactiveness, low energy density and higher weight. “The challenge is using it on industrial and commercial scale,” said Rao. Naga Phani B. Aetukuri, assistant professor, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, believes that considering its weight it could be used more in stationary storage.


THE ONE CLEAR alternative to lithium will be green hydrogen,” said Uday Narang, founder of Omega Seiki Mobility that is aiming at a hydrogen-powered three-wheeler by this year-end.

The excitement over hydrogen is palpable (India has already announced a Green Hydrogen Mission), almost to the extent that the general belief is that even if it takes time, it will be the panacea to all our energy worries in the future.

And why not, when the theory sounds absolutely simple―hydrogen reacts with oxygen in an electrochemical cell to produce electricity, with water being the byproduct. Electricity and water? Win-win, right?

The big ‘but’ comes when you are reminded it is the stuff thermonuclear bombs are made of. And the big ‘if’ depends on how we tame it for practical, commercial use in the coming years.

Vehicle makers are already envisaging a near-future scenario―2030 is the year many tout―when trucks and buses will be running on hydrogen fuel cells. Watch this space.


FOR ALL ITS scarcity, China’s stranglehold on its entire cycle and a plethora of possible alternatives, lithium may just refuse to bow out. Countries and companies are trying to improve lithium cell technologies―lithium nickel-manganese-cobalt oxide and lithium nickel-cobalt-aluminium oxide are making the rounds as alternatives.

“There is a high chance that the Indian battery ecosystem will adopt lithium iron phosphate chemistry,” said Phani. It is safer in India’s hot weather.