Lohum – a battery life cycle solutions company that mainly works with three products and services, namely first-life battery, second-life battery and materials extraction. Learn what these terms mean and how these services can save you money if you own an electric vehicle or use an application that comes with a battery.
Lohum – a battery life cycle solutions company aiming to make India energy self-sufficient. The company essentially operates three main products and services, namely first-life battery, second-life battery, and end-of-life material recovery. To understand what that means, batteries are made from new lithium-ion cells for the first lifetime battery and used in a variety of applications. Second life battery, on the other hand, means taking battery packs off the market and harvesting the good cells from them, understanding the lifespan of those cells and the health of the cell, and using them for some other application such as a mobility application such as an e-rickshaw or two-wheeler or as a storage application such as an inverter battery.
Lastly, the material extraction, where the company extracts various materials that go into a cell, such as lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel, manganese, etc. These materials are very geostrategic by nature, and as this is not the case in India in particular, there Lithium, cobalt and nickel are present, the extraction of these elements is a step towards an independent energy supply in India, the company said. To better understand the company's services and future plans, Express Drives recently had an insightful conversation with Rajat Verma, founder of Lohum. Here's what he had to say!
Express drives – First, how is the lock going for you as a brand?
Rajat – June was a bit of a beginning and an end, but July / August were mostly stable. We were largely able to maintain our production runs on most days. Almost the entire team is back. We are seeing increasing demand again, especially from the logistics sector. So I believe that the road to normal has begun and we can all get back to focus on the core of the business. However, we remain very cautious, especially when it comes to the safety of our team, and take all possible precautions.
What exactly has impacted business in the Covid-19 situation?
I can see the impact from two sides. One is the supply side impact and the other is of course the demand side. Now we are making batteries for both the automotive and non-automotive sectors. Lithium-ion batteries are used across the board. As you understand, the automotive sector was seriously affected, at least until June. Recent data seems to suggest that a number of categories within the automotive sector have been increasing again, so the effects are slowly fading. The silver lining is the logistics segment that has accumulated at the back of e-commerce businesses. We were also able to find an alternative on the storage side. In data centers, where many use lithium-ion batteries as backup solutions, demand has increased, especially during lockdown. Solar-based solutions that require backup continue to grow.
As you can see, we are all somewhat dependent on China on the supply side. Apparently, the Chinese supply chain has been severely impacted not only because of Covid-19, but also because of the recent incidents in Ladakh. So it all played a role. However, this has resulted in a much more emphasis on finding alternatives. While people know we can't fix the supply chain problem overnight, everyone is getting more creative, including us. We also had the non-Chinese advantage that we have a good business on the second side of life and material extraction which is heavily dependent on the supply chain in India and has nothing to do with supply chains outside of India. That remains our strength, even if we as a country find out what we want to do with China.
What is the efficiency during the second battery life?
This is different. We get second-life cells that are the same size as first-life cells. We get cells of the second life that have 70% of the capacity of the cells of the first life. We get a number of different behaviors between cells, and that series tells us what kind of application we can post there. The application itself determines what kind of load or stress is on the cell and that helps us understand this. So if I get 7,000 cells back I can put 20% into one application and 20% into another application, and so on. We have a very proprietary process based on our own heuristics. That is the core strength of the organization. We have carried out extensive research and development work here, and we are pleased that we have one of the world's most extensive databases of cells, measured by the number of cells examined, the number of cells analyzed and the number of cells again in the second Life set. On top of that, we've covered more than 1 million miles in vehicle application using Second Life cells, which no one in the world has done.
Speaking of cost, what could the number be while the battery second life process is in progress? Suppose I have a battery from an ather scooter worth Rs 50,000 and give you the battery. What is the average cost of giving the battery a second life?
When it comes to an application, the end user doesn't care whether you give them a second life battery or a third life battery or a first life battery. You have a specific requirement from this battery. Suppose I have an Ather scooter and need a range of 50 miles on a single charge. This is a requirement. When we put a battery together, be it with new or old cells, this is the range we try to give.
In the market, when the price is X, we will usually market ourselves 80% of X, sometimes even 75% of X. When I look at tricycle batteries, our batteries are almost Rs 20,000 cheaper than the market. We have a great advantage here. However, there is no degradation in performance or guarantee of what we offer to the market. It's the same quality that we offer. If there is any degradation, we put it in another application that doesn't require that type of performance. E.g. All of my cells have deteriorated to 60% and I cannot put these cells in a two-wheel battery. I take these cells and create a battery pack for an inverter application. This is an alternative to a lead-acid battery. Lead-acid batteries require maintenance, degrade quickly, and take up a lot of space. Instead, we offer a Li-ion battery. Customized to the requirements of the application, we meet this with our second life cells with the restrictions provided by the application. If this is not possible, we will put them in an alternate application where the restrictions can be met.
If you give me a battery at the end of the day, I can either put it back into the original application or I'll convert it to another application. In the world of recycling, we have a certain way of thinking about the world in which we either repair, renovate, or reuse, or recycle. Repair means that I don't have to do much and only have to make minor changes. Refurbishing means that I am creating a different product for a similar application, but with changed parameters. If the first product had a 3 year guarantee, I will give the new product a 2 year guarantee. If the original product was 80 km, I'll give it 70 km. Repurpose means that I can no longer paste it into the original application. I need to build another application. Recycle means that I have no further use. This means that I have to extract the raw materials and sell them again to create new applications. This is the paradigm that we follow in the recycling world.
You must have plans to work with multiple OEMs. Can you shed some light on whether you currently have partnerships?
We have already partnered with a number of OEMs, particularly in the two- and three-wheeler segment. Most of the names in the electric vehicle space either work with us or are in discussion and have our products approved. On the recycling side, I can't name the players as the information is confidential, but we work with three major global OEMs to whom we offer a full Second Life and recycling solution.
What is the recycling of fully stacked lithium-ion batteries and how does it work?
Full stack means that you can extract all of the material from a lithium-ion cell. A cell like I mentioned is essentially made up of lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel and manganese, and a few other elements. The reason I mentioned these particular elements is because they have all been identified as strategic elements by the Indian government itself and we have challenges with them in the country. By recycling, we are actually helping India gain some kind of independence around these materials.
Remember, one of the reasons we are switching to battery-powered vehicles is to reduce our reliance on oil. However, if we do not face the material challenge, we will be back in first place as we will still have a large foreign import invoice. By recycling, we are trying to reduce that foreign import bill and that is the basic concept we want to introduce to everyone, whether it is the market, the government or other stakeholders. Today India is one of the largest automobile nations in the world and we are trying to become energy independent. We should set ourselves the goal of becoming a recycling center in the world, because only if we do this will we become truly energy independent. India has the right characteristics that make it a very efficient recycling center in the long term and thereby become energy independent.
With Lohum making batteries, how do you see PM Modi's atmanirbhar emotions and how do you think this will affect your business?
When we talk about creating in the nation where we have to become independent from others and become absolutely dependent on ourselves, this is a great first step and allows everyone to think creatively but within limits. The next step is how do we make it realistic and material? None of us can deny that China today has an enormous capacity advantage over not just India but every nation in the world. Breaking this will not be easy and breaking the advantage China has over everyone will take time, but several small steps can be taken. Baby steps in the Li-ion battery segment are that we are assembling more and more battery packs across the nation. The next step is to manufacture cells in the nation and the next step is to manufacture electronics in the nation. Today we are already assembling batteries in the country. Lohum as an organization harvests these cells, which is similar to the production of our own cells.
More and more companies like Tata Chemicals and TVS are talking about creating production capacities for cells in the country. The latter becomes independent in electronics. Today we already do a lot of design work in electronics and hopefully in time we will do a lot more manufacturing work in electronic components. These are the basic steps that are required to get there. For India to compete with China, be it for manufacturing or raw materials, we need to become a great recycling hub for end-to-end products. By recycling end products, you become a secondary producer of raw materials. Without raw material you can have big plans, but nothing can be produced. China has mined raw materials around the world, and now we need to recapture them, essentially by becoming a sustainable recycling nation.
Are your solutions also open to people with personal mobility solutions? Say I have had an electric scooter for 5 years and I want to know if it can be recycled or refurbished. So is this option also open or only for OEMs?
Of course you can come to us, although we are a very young company and are increasing our sales and presence. We are open to transferring cell phone batteries to laptops and larger vehicle batteries so that we can subject them to our second life and material extraction process and thus make them available to the wider ecosystem. I want to remind you once again that we have a lot of raw material in the country and we want to find out how every product in the country can be recycled. E.g. There are enough raw materials in the country to produce more than 1 million two-wheelers each year. That is the amount we have in the country. You don't have to run out, but you need to be able to recycle better.
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