Electric vehicles are exploding onto the automotive scene, and are gaining good traction in India. However, everyone admits that battery technology is currently the biggest roadblock stopping EVs from surpassing fossil fuel-burning vehicles.
Many thousands of minds around the world are hard at work to solve the problem, with some taking quite radical approaches. We visited the office of one such company – a small Mumbai-based start-up that hopes to flip battery technology on its head, with a battery that can be charged to full in less than 15min. They aim to do so by dropping the current industry norm of using lithium-ion batteries for a different technology altogether. But before we go any further, let’s introduce you to the brains behind the project.
Jubin Varghese and Ameya Gadiwan are the co-founders of Gegadyne Energy, a company that now has multiple patents for the electric vehicle ecosystem. It was founded in 2015 after the duo realised that battery tech was the biggest letdown, when they built an EV for a college project. They found the use of lead-acid battery (found in most cars and bikes in India) futile, as it was heavy and took far too long to charge. This led them on to work on different iterations of lead-acid batteries, but they quickly reached its glass ceiling. They then moved on to lithium-ion batteries (found in Tesla’s cars and most smartphones) for a short duration. However, they realised this tech was being heavily researched and was one that needed hefty chargers for genuinely quick recharges – either a 10C or 12C charge rate, something the electric grid in India doesn’t support. That’s when Gegadyne turned its attention to something called supercapacitors.
What are supercapacitors?
To understand a supercapacitor one must first understand a capacitor. It is a device used to store an electric charge and consists of one or more pairs of conductors separated by an insulator. Unlike lead-acid and lithium-ion set-ups, which store charge chemically, all capacitors store charge electrostatically. A supercapacitor is a type of capacitor that can store a large amount of energy – up to 100 times more energy per unit mass or volume – as compared to a conventional capacitor; it does this by having larger-sized conductors that are positioned closer to each other. While 100 times more might sound like a lot, the energy density (the amount of energy you can store in a given amount of space) is still low compared to alternate battery solutions. Gegadyne, however, claims to have overcome this for the most part with a remarkable supercapacitor set-up that has 50 times the energy density of a traditional one.
Their claim to fame is a supercapacitor battery pack 10 times smaller than any other available in the market. The duo also told us that they have managed to improve the self-discharge rate of the batteries – another huge liability of supercapacitors. Gegadyne claims they are now at a stage where their batteries can hold the charge for around two weeks before beginning to lose it.
Despite being at the top of their game, Gegadyne’s battery pack is still heavier than a Li-ion pack.
Everything we know
The Gegadyne 1kWh (kilowatt hour) battery pack that was shown to us had a charge rate of 4C. It uses the conventional DC (direct current) charger used with any fast-charging lithium-ion battery. It can also be charged with a regular AC (alternating current) charger, but that will take comparatively longer, at around two hours (a similar lithium-ion would take four hours). As for energy density, it is currently at a claimed 150Wh per kg, but the company has said that it has developed one that is capable of 200Wh per kg. Gegadyne’s goal, however, is to reach the 250 Wh per kg mark, which would make it at par with good-quality, lithium-ion battery packs. As for retention (a battery’s ability to hold an electric charge when no current is being provided or drawn from it), it claims to have an impressive 90 percent efficiency even after 2,000 cycles (a charge cycle is a complete charge and discharge on a battery). They tell us, a lithium-ion, in comparison, can do 1,500 cycles at best.
At the laboratory level, Gegadyne claims to have lowered the cost close to USD 350 per kWh at present. However, they expect it drop to USD 250 per kWh once they are commercialised. Good-quality, lithium-ion batteries, for reference, cost around USD 200-250 per kWh.
What lies ahead
Gegadyne says they are close to commercialisation and are in talks with a few channel partners and OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer). The company has plans to launch the first plant by 2020. And unlike Li tech, the raw materials are easily available, which is why the plant will be built in Maharashtra itself.
The start-up believes the electric movement in India will begin snowballing with a two-wheeler, and also says that it will be large fleet owners who will first adopt electric vehicles, and then be followed by mass consumers. They also believe that it is here that they will get to best demonstrate the potential of their innovative tech which has applications in various fields.
As things stand, supercapacitors hold much higher promise than Li-ion. Since it is an electrostatic battery, it doesn’t develop much heat and doesn’t face as much chemical degradation, so it has the potential to last much longer than a lithium-ion battery in the long run. The materials used should also be gentler on the environment and more recycle-friendly. We hope to hear more from Gegadyne over the year.
We rode an e-scooter powered by a Gegadyne battery and it ran similarly to a Li-ion battery we experienced soon after.