The “War of the Currents” is a well-documented technology war of the 1880s, with “Edison” & “Westinghouse” on either side of the fence. It is said to be the very first technology war to set standards of power distribution and, involved a series of events. Its end came with the construction of a 3.70 MW powerhouse at Niagara Fall by Westinghouse Electric in 1895 and within the next few years, the DC power system was completely replaced by an AC power system. All of the then-existing ~15 electric companies merged into two; General Electric and Westinghouse Electric. The world of electricity had changed then. Later, we saw many more such technology wars e.g. Videotape format war (1978~80), Apple IBM war (~the 1980s) & first Browser war (~the 1990s), PC Operating System (1988), HD optical disc format war (2006~2008) to name which changed the course of technology and world for the better. In EVs market, one such war is already on, for EV charging system amongst four types of charging system – first one known as Tesla’s own Supercharger system, second one is CCS (known as Combined Charging System and is favoured by Europe, BMW, Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler, Ford and the Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche), third one CHAdeMO (Charge de Move and developed by Japanese firms including carmakers Nissan and Mitsubishi) and lastly GB/T in China, the world’s biggest electric car market.
In the coming few years, with the rise of EVs, we are probably going to witness a similar War which might later be studied as the “War of The Batteries”. With the meteoric rise of Tesla in the area of EV, This unsaid “war of the batteries” has already begun.
However, it is interesting to recall that despite multiple fuel options available for ICEVs (e.g. Hydrogen, Natural gas, Conventional gasoline, Conventional diesel, Ethanol, LPG, LNG, CNG, Butane, or Propane), ICEVs had only two known & established technologies to harness the energy from these fuels- spark plug ignition (SI technology for a petrol engine) & Compression Ignition (CI for Diesel engine) and being complementary, they both grew in tandem during the last century depending upon the application and need, supplementing each other. There was no fight for supremacy.
The situation is not the same in the current EVs market, which is still evolving. While the main drive technology may remain more or less the same for all EVs, there are multiple options of onboard energy storage & generation for these EVs. While these technologies may have performed well till now in western countries with a limited number of EVs, in diverse & complex Indian mobility market, which has extreme weather conditions (with rains, temperature, dust, humidity, etc.), as well as other complexities e.g. highly unregulated traffic, typical driving habits & conditions, poses a different level of challenge for these EVs and their batteries, affecting the travel range, performance & reliability.
While many of the infrastructure related challenges like reliability & functionality of charging stations [where power is a political tool & power theft is a normal thing (25~27% of total generation)], the EV manufacturers, as well as energy source manufacturers for these EVs, need to look into many such contradictions of Indian mobility world before deciding about the kind of energy source their EVs would be using for Indian roads.
In the “War of The Batteries”, many technology would fall and many underdogs would rise in coming times before few winners take their righteous place, however, till the time that happens let’s try to understand the current scenario, starting from the beginning.
An about 2,200 years old clay pot discovered near Baghdad, Iraq, currently known as “Baghdad Battery” is probably the oldest electricity generation device by chemical reactions (generating 1.1V) indicating the age-old human need to produce, store & use electricity at will. Fast forward to the current time, today these portable energy storage devices have become an integrated part of our daily life and have almost become an extension of every individual himself. Batteries (both rechargeable/ non–rechargeable) are now redefining our lifestyles. From the TV remote to mobile phone to invertors of the house’s batteries have come a long way.
In scientific way, the concept of “battery” in context to energy was first described by Benjamin Franklin, who in 1748, used this term for a set of Leyden jars using the analogy to a “battery of cannons” used by military which fire in tandem and increase the impact of their attack.
Though, in common terminology, the two words “a cell” & “a battery” are frequently used as synonyms, yet technically they are different. While a “cell” is ‘‘the basic single electrochemical unit providing a source of electrical energy by direct conversion of chemical energy’’, while a “battery” is a “combination of multiple cells, connected in an appropriate series or parallel arrangement to provide the required operating voltage and or current”. However, for general discussion and as well this article, they are considered at par and mean the same.
Depending upon their ability to get recharged, these electrochemical cells/batteries are further classified as primary (non-rechargeable) or secondary (rechargeable) cells or batteries. These batteries have one biggest advantage over IC engines – unlike IC engines, they are NOT subject to the limitations of the Carnot cycle dictated by the second law of thermodynamics and hence they can convert chemical energy into electrical energy, with higher energy conversion efficiencies.
Application of Primary & Secondary Batteries
The chart below shows the application range of primary and secondary batteries. As the power requirement of the application increases the size of the battery also increases leading to a rise in replacement cost, hence the battery choice also shifts from the “primary battery” to the “secondary battery” as instead of replacement, they could be recharged and used multiple times.
With this background this article tries to explore the current and future possibility of present energy sources, which are being successfully deployed in many of modern EVs in Indian perspective.
…To be continued
Prabhat Khare possesses a BE (Electrical) degree from IIT Roorkee (Gold Medalist). Now, he is the Director of KK Consultants. He is also a BEE Certified Energy Manager and a Lead Assessor for ISO 9K, 14K, 45K & 50K.