Indian Oil Corporation venturing to improve lead-acid-battery

NEW DELHI: State-owned Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) is in talks with battery makers to license its new technology, which boosts lead-acid battery life by 30% and cuts charging time by 40%, or jointly manufacture storage devices. 

IOC, the nation’s largest refiner and fossil fuel retailer, is researching new energy storage technology and improvising older battery technology such as lead-acid to stay relevant in a future when electric mobility is expected to eat into the company’s currently-flourishing liquid fuel business. 

The company’s research lab has improvised the leadacid battery and is now exploring ways to take it to the market. “All options are open with us today. We can set up our own manufacturing or we can join hands with some leading battery manufacturer in the country,” SSV Ramakumar, director (research & development) at IOC, told ET.

The company is in talks with battery makers and may soon unveil its plan on taking the technology to market. “We have developed a new nano material, which when used in lead-acid battery in fixed proportion, increases the life of lead-acid battery by 30%,” said Ramakumar.

The improvised battery has been tested in three-wheelers, he said.

Lead-acid batteries are heavier and so limit the range of electric vehicles while lighter and fastcharging lithium-ion batteries permit longer range and have thus become the key propeller of the new wave of electric vehicle that’s seeking to challenge the dominance of petrol and diesel vehicles.

IOC chose to work on lead-acid battery as it was found more suited to Indian needs. “This is a mature battery technology. Its raw material is available in India. Its recycling technology is available in the country,” said Ramakumar. “For India, lithium is not the right technology.”

One, raw material availability is zero. Lithium’s recycling technology is zero. The electrolyte under lithium is a toxic electrolyte, highly inflammable, unlike lead-acid where you have water.” The market size for lead-acid battery is estimated to be Rs 30,000 crore, he said.

“If we want to be a player in energy storage industry, we will need to be a manufacturer. If or how soon, only time will tell,” said Ramakumar.

But, he said, a final decision on entering manufacturing would require the company to have “enough confidence in the new chemistries that we are exploring, and clarity on government policy on emobility”.

The break-even capacity for battery manufacturing is one gigawatt and an investment of that order can’t be made without full clarity on policy and technology.