Sun Mobility showcases swappable battery technology for 2- and 3-wheelers
Sun Mobility, a Bangalore based JV between Virya Mobility 5.0 and Sun New Energy Systems, unrelieved a revolutionary new solution to encourage the shift to electric vehicles in India. It is the worlds first interoperable smart mobility solution for two and three wheelers, and runs a universal architecture to fulfil the needs of both. At the helm of this ambitious project is Chetan Maini, the man behind Reva and Uday Khemka, Vice-chairman of the Sun group. Their focus here is primarily on public transport, on three-wheelers like e-autos and e-rickshaws and also extends to two-wheelers like electric scooters. But before we get in to what the solution to the problem is, let us talk about the problem itself. The Electric FutureThere is a huge push towards electrification of transport. Manufacturers the world over agree that an electric future is the most sustainable to solution to pollution woes that the automobile industry faces. India itself has committed to going electric by 2030. The entire industry is making a push towards electric drivetrains, connected systems, shared mobility and even autonomous systems. There are some rather obvious advantages to having electric drivetrains in automobiles. For starters, these systems are way more efficient that internal combustion ones. The fact that they have fewer moving parts means that maintenance is cheaper. They also allow for lower running costs and obviously, have zero tailpipe emissions. But there are challenges as well. Batteries are expensive and they drive the cost of acquiring these vehicles up significantly. Refuelling a conventional car normally takes a few minutes, but electric vehicles have longer charging cycles. At current technology levels, you can fast charge a car in about an hour while a regular wall socket will charge it up in eight to nine hours. Theres also the tiny problem of electric infrastructure not being on par with conventional fuels and wanting more range out of their vehicles than current tech allows without driving up cost astronomically. OEMs all over the globe are working towards the solution to these problems, but there are also companies like Sun Mobility that are offering some rather intriguing solutions at the same time. Getting thereSun Mobility showcased the direction they were heading in with Ashok Leylands Circuit-S bus that was unveiled at Auto Expo 2018. It featured a swappable battery system that allowed the bus to ply all day without any issues with range. Batteries were simply swapped out at one of their dedicated stations and the bus could continue on a full charge. They have now extended that concept to two-wheelers and three-wheelers. They have designed an entire environment where electric two-wheelers and three-wheelers (and probably other small urban vehicles in the future) can ply on swappable, modular batteries. This environment includes a smart battery, a station to swap the batteries for fresh ones and an entire digital network to monitor and study the usage patterns of these batteries. First, let's talk about the batteries themselves. The lithium-ion batteries are modular units made up of twelve cells that can fit in a variety of different applications — in scooters, in e-autos and e-rickshaws. The batteries themselves are rather lightweight — they stand at about 13kg now but Sun Mobility aims to shave this down to 12.5kg before the launch. Each battery is a 1.5kWh unit, and an application can support multiple batteries at the same time. They are also intelligent and connected because they are in constant contact with a cloud that allows them to be monitored individually from a backend. This allows them to be optimised for the vehicle they are being used in at the time. They are also connected to the user's phone through an app so he is always updated about their health and charge status at all time. Most importantly, though, the cells are upgradable in the future so it is harder for this tech to go obsolete. What is crucial to understand is that these batteries will not be sold with the vehicle. Vehicles will be available from OEMs with slots for where these batteries will fit, but the batteries will be owned by Sun Mobility and be leased out to users. Once in the vehicle, the user can drive around like it is a conventional e-vehicle until the battery gets drained. Then once a battery is drained, all he has to do is approach a Quick interchange Station and swap out the depleted battery for a fully charged one. He only has to pay for the units that he used, and Sun Mobility claims that cost of these units per kilometre will be on par with or lower than conventional fuel. The swapping itself takes under a minute.This whole concept tackles a lot of issues including the high cost of ownership, range anxiety and charging time. The fact that these vehicles are sold without a battery means they can be sold at prices on par with or cheaper than conventional ones. Range anxiety will not be in issue as batteries can be swapped out for fresh ones at any time at their dedicated stations. Changing time is completely negated, as the batteries are being charged at these stations all the time. Ground ZeroSun Mobility has already partnered with Ashok Leyland to build these buses with swappable batteries. They are also in talks with 5 OEMs — four of which are three wheelers and one is an electric two-wheeler manufacturer to sell their tech right off their lines. However, they are also looking to capitalise on the existing e-rickshaw and e-auto owners who are facing issues of batteries with depleting range. They can offer conversions of existing e-vehicles on to their platform. The whole system is in its final stages, and a launch is expected in the second half of the year. The system is first expected to be seen in Delhi and NCR, which already has high penetration of electric three-wheelers and in Bengaluru as well.