While the Indian government is bullish about boosting manufacturing and sales of electric vehicles in India, one of the major roadblocks is the lack of proper technology and charging infrastructure.
It is perhaps safe to say that the Indian automotive industry has the drive to develop electric vehicles, but there is an immense requirement for an improved charging infrastructure and technology to achieve the emobility targets set by the government for 2030.
In order to eliminate fears related to range anxiety, the government has proposed setting up of 2,700 charging stations, with the availability of at least one charging station in a 3km x 3km grid, as a part of the FAME II scheme.
At the same time, private companies are also doing their bit to ensure good infrastructure for greener mobility in India. A key part of this is building better and EV batteries and ION Energy is playing a big role in order to achieve this goal.
Mumbai-based energy storage startup ION Energy provides a technology platform that leverages software analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve performance of EV batteries.
ION Energy’s initiative is geared towards helping Indian EV companies produce their own batteries, built on technology licenced from ION. The company believes this will help increase the penetration of electric vehicles across India.
ION Energy’s Initiative To Develop EV Batteries
ION Energy was founded by Akhil Aryan in 2016. Aryan’s interest in physics and energy was the primary reason behind him looking at this segment. Before setting up ION energy, Aryan had worked with Mumbai-based digital customer service platform Haptik. At the core of the company is a battery management and intelligence platform that lets companies design their own battery management system (BMS). The BMS is considered the brain of a battery, and its most significant function is to provide cell protection.
“We are building the core technology platform from software management and intelligence standpoint to support all the verticals of the electric vehicle ecosystem,” said Aryan. These include — battery pack makers, OEMs, companies working to develop charging infrastructure.
In 2017, ION Energy had raised an undisclosed amount of angel funding from a clutch of investors, including Sushil Jiwarajka, Chairman of OMC Power and founder of Nippo Batteries; Aakrit Vaish and Swapan Rajdev, the founders of Haptik. In 2018, ION Energy also became a part of the coveted list of India’s most innovative startups — 42Next by Inc42.
In an interview with Inc42, Aryan revealed his plans to raise more funding by the end of this year with an aim to expand to international markets.
Last year, the startup had acquired France-based battery management company Freemens SAS, which saw Alexandre Collet join as cofounder. Following the acquisition, the entire Freemens engineering and sales team joined the core team of ION.
Following the acquisition, ION unveiled its battery product UDYR. It is an intelligent, modular, and portable 48V lithium-ion battery powered by ION’s proprietary BMS software platform, and backend analytics. The company claims that this combination increases battery life in EVs by up to 200%.
Aryan explained that the company earns its revenue by following three business models. “The first one is the BMS sale where a bunch of companies buy our battery management system, the second is the BMS platform licence which means companies can use our platform to accelerate their BMS development by two-three years and save million dollars expenses and thirdly, the subscription to our software analytics platform which the companies use for diagnostics and warranty validation”.
Talking about other potential growth areas and ION’s plans, Aryan explained that they plan on identifying how machine learning and AI can be leveraged to manage fleet and the host of these EV batteries.
This is perhaps one of the major reasons which drove him to launch ION in the first place.
“I was fascinated by the nature of electrons and the energy space has been close to my heart. The idea was how can we leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence to increase the life and performance of the battery,” Arya added.
Plans To Expand, And Ecosystem Challenges
ION is currently focusing on building the business as it has been garnering a lot of traction from international markets. And thus, it’s planning to scale its team across Europe, the US and also aims to potentially establish a presence in China once it raises the next round of funding.
While battery development is in a nascent stage in India, ION energy faces competition globally. One of the notable players in the BMS development sector in Austria-based AVL which offer similar kind of services.
When asked if ION has any plans to expand its services to other electric vehicle verticals, Aryan said that it will continue to focus on developing the infrastructure and technology for the ecosystem and also explore asset management and insurance of lithium-ion batteries
While his interest in electron led him to set up ION Energy, the road to success was not easy for them. While electric vehicles parts or batteries are relatively easier to explain, it was a little difficult to get the battery performance technology across to investors.
The Million-Dollar EV Infrastructure Question
Lack of infrastructure to support the developing electric vehicle ecosystem is one of the major reasons for many players to roll back or fail in their EV ambitions.
Most recently in March, JSW Group also rolled back its plans to enter into electric vehicles manufacturing space citing a high level of uncertainty associated with space and also problems to maintain capital for growth opportunities in the power sector.
In order to revamp the infrastructure and adoption of electric, the central government recently launched the second phase of FAME II. However, the much-awaited scheme received mixed reactions from the industry players. While some say that the scheme will affect the two-wheeler industry due to reduced incentives, some have critiqued the policy due to the 50% localisation ruling.
While Aryan agreed that immediate localisation and manufacturing of EV batteries is not possible for India, he highlighted the importance of enforcing the idea of localisation among the players.
He believes that FAME is intended to help the companies realise that importing will become difficult in later years.
Aryan explained — “The policy is trying to set expectations and set the foundation that the government is serious about localisation, that it does not want to increase dependency on countries like China and it wants to enforce better regulations to companies that are keeping a make in India mindset. The FAME II construct is meaningful but the execution is not ideal. It is demanding for Indian OEMs to adopt the technology and develop it.”
Last year, cab aggregator Ola’s electric vehicle pilot project in Nagpur failed to take off after months of work, as drivers expressed a wish to return the electric cars to the company, due to higher operating expenses and a long wait at charging stations.
However, even after experiencing failure, Ola has now ramped up its efforts in the electric vehicle space. In March, Bhavish Agarwal-led Ola had set up an independent company Ola Electric Mobility to drive its EV goals. Ola Electric also raised funding of $56 Mn (INR 400 Cr) from Ola’s early investors, Tiger Global and Matrix India among others.
The Ola Electric investment has reinvigorated the electric vehicle segment in India, and this is the right time for companies in this space to bet big on their products and services. ION Energy has the product, platform and momentum to make the most of this window of opportunity.