Second-life use for Audi e-tron batteries to power electric rickshaws in India

The German–Indian start-up Nunam is bringing three electric rickshaws to the roads of India using second-life electric vehicle (EV) batteries. The rickshaws are powered by used batteries taken from test vehicles in Audi’s e-tron test fleet. 

The project aims to explore how modules made with high-voltage batteries can be reused after their car life cycle and become a viable second-life use case. The project also aims to strengthen job opportunities for women in India in particular. They will be provided with the electric rickshaws to transport their goods to market in a clean and safe manner. 

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The non-profit start-up based in Berlin and Bangalore is funded by the Audi Environmental Foundation. Nunam developed the three prototypes in collaboration with the training team at Audi’s Neckarsulm site. This in turn benefits from the intensive intercultural exchange. This is the first joint project between both Audi AG and the Audi Environmental Foundation in addition to Nunam.

The e-rickshaws powered by second-life batteries are scheduled to hit the roads in India for the first time in a pilot project in early 2023. There they will be made available to a non-profit organisation.

Prodip Chatterjee, Nunam co-founder, said: “The old batteries are still extremely powerful. When used appropriately, second-life batteries can have a huge impact, helping people in challenging life situations earn an income and gain economic independence – everything in a sustainable way.”

Nunam’s electric rickshaws with second-life Audi e-tron batteries being charged using solar power

The start-up’s primary goal is to develop ways to use old batteries as second-life power storage systems, thus both extending their lives and using resources more efficiently.

Chatterjee added: “Car batteries are designed to last the life of the car. But even after their initial use in a vehicle, they still have a lot of their power. For vehicles with lower range and power requirements, as well as lower overall weight, they are extremely promising. 

“In our second-life project, we reuse batteries from electric cars in electric vehicles; you might call it electric mobility ‘lite’. In this way, we’re trying to find out how much power the batteries can still provide in this demanding use case.”

With a high-energy-density battery and comparatively low vehicle weight, the electric motor doesn’t have to be particularly powerful, since rickshaw drivers in India travel neither fast nor far. While electrically powered rickshaws are not an uncommon sight on the roads of the subcontinent today, they often run on lead-acid batteries, which have a relatively short service life and are often not disposed of properly. 

At the same time, rickshaw drivers charge their vehicles primarily with public grid electricity, which has a high proportion of coal-fired power in India. Nunam has a solution for this too. The e-rickshaws charge using power from solar charging stations. The solar panels are located on the roofs of the local partner’s premises. 

During the day, sunlight charges an e-tron battery, which acts a buffer storage unit. In the evening, the power is passed on to the rickshaws. This approach makes local driving largely carbon-free. 

Following second-life use in the e-ricksaw the batteries are used to power LED lighting

The upshot is the electric rickshaws can be used throughout the day and charged with green power during the evening and night. In India, where the sun shines all year round, placing solar panels on the roof is a no-brainer. The charging station was also developed internally.

Rüdiger Recknagel, Audi Environmental Foundation director, said: “Initiatives like the one pioneered by Nunam are needed to find new use cases for e-waste. Not only in India but worldwide. 

“So Nunam shares its knowledge to motivate more initiatives to develop products with second-life components that can drive the eco-social revolution forward,”

Following its second in an e-rickshaw, the batter has not necessarily reached the end of the road. In a third step, the batteries’ remaining power might be used for stationary applications such as LED lighting. 

In the long term, electric mobility and solar energy can help reduce India’s dependence on fossil fuels such as coal. Plus, they can reduce the large volumes of exhaust emissions on India’s roads while providing people with a reliable power supply. 

Ian Osborne
Ian Osborne
Editor-in-Chief at ElectricDrives

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