A drive to lessen dependence on imported materials and technology, especially from China, is pushing India to invest in a battery technology that uses aluminum rather than lithium as the key ingredient. Indian Oil Corp., the nation’s largest oil refiner, has tied up with startup Phinergy Ltd. to develop the Israeli company’s aluminum-air battery.
India has few exploitable options to generate lithium, the key metal for the current generation of electric-vehicle batteries, but its eastern jungles hold large reserves of bauxite, the ore used to manufacture aluminum.
“Lithium is scarce in the country and we started scouting for an element which is abundantly available as a natural resource,” stated Indian Oil R&D Director S.S.V. Ramakumar.
India is among the top 10 bauxite makers. It has some 600 million tons of the ore in proven reserves, as per the U.S. Geological Survey, however India’s mining ministry estimates that untapped resources may be many times that amount. Furthermore, the country has invested heavily in production of aluminum over the years to become the world’s second-biggest smelter of aluminum.
“Clearly the special consideration here is that aluminum is in better supply than lithium,” stated James Frith, Head of Energy Storage at BNEF in London. “But with the ever-falling prices of lithium-based systems, developers will be under pressure to find niche applications where Aluminum-Oxygen can gain a foothold.”
An aluminum-air battery could win advantages over its lithium-ion rival in three other crucial ways, Ramakumar added: It’s potentially cheaper, vehicles using it would have a longer range, and it’s safer.
The battery works by tapping electricity produced when aluminum plates react with oxygen in the air. It consists one of the highest energy densities for a battery. But the system has a number of downsides that have kept it from wide-scale use since it was first proposed in the 1960s.
Chief among them is the cost of materials that need to be added to the battery to avert the power from dropping and the fact that the cells can’t be recharged. Instead, Phinergy’s plan is for users to be able to quickly swap in a novel battery and