What does an Audi e-tron superfast electric car have in
common with an Indian electric rickshaw? Their heart beats are similar! The
German–Indian start-up Nunam is bringing three electric rickshaws to the roads
of India. They are powered by used batteries taken from test vehicles in the
Audi e-tron test fleet.
The aim of the
project is 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
e-rickshaws to transport their goods. 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, which 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. Women in
particular will be able to use the all-electric rickshaws to transport their
goods to market for sale, all without the need for intermediaries. The
e-rickshaws are powered by used battery modules that spent their first life in
an Audi e-tron.
“The old batteries are still extremely powerful,” says
Nunam cofounder Prodip Chatterjee, adding that “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
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.
“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,” Chatterjee explains. “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,” he adds.
“E-rickshaws have an ideal eco-efficiency,” says
31-year-old Chatterjee. 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 as well: 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. And in
the evening, the power is passed on to the rickshaws. This approach makes local
driving largely carbon-free. The upshot: The electric rickshaws can be used
throughout the day – and still be 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
Nunam continuously monitors the e-rickshaws’ performance
and range. The social entrepreneurs make all the e-rickshaw data they collect
available to potential imitators on the open-source platform
https://circularbattery.org/. In fact, imitation is expressly encouraged.
“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,” says Audi Environmental
Foundation Director Rüdiger Recknagel. The Foundation has been funding Nunam
Moreover, after the battery has spent its first life in
an Audi e-tron and its second in an e-rickshaw, it 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. “We want to get
everything possible out of each battery before recycling,” says cofounder
In the long term, electric mobility and solar energy can
help reduce India’s dependence on fossil fuels such as coal, reduce the huge
volume of exhaust emissions on India’s roads, and provide people with a
reliable power supply. Rüdiger Recknagel comments: “In many ways, this project
is pointing the way forward.”
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