Audi e-rickshaw for India
The humble rickshaw gets the e-tron treatment in a new Audi test project.
Developing ways to give new life to old batteries as second-life power storage systems, takes on a new look in a fleet of e-rickshaws bound for the roads of India.
17 June, 2022
The aim of the project is to explore how modules made with high-voltage batteries can be reused after their car life cycle
‘There’s life in the old dog yet’. It’s an old-fashioned expression that very much rings true for another initiative between Audi and Indian start-up, Nunam, which will see a new slant on an old type of vehicle on the bustling roads of India.
While the Audi Foundation has worked with Nunam on other similar projects, this is the first joint venture that also includes AUDI AG as partner and will see batteries taken from test vehicles in the Audi e-tron test fleet used to power three e-rickshaws developed by Nunam in collaboration with the training team at Audi’s Neckarsulm site.
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 e-rickshaws due to hit the roads in India for the first time in a pilot project in early 2023 where 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 old batteries are still extremely powerful,” says Nunam co-founder Prodip Chatterjee. “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.”
“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.”
“E-rickshaws have an ideal eco-efficiency,” says 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, but 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.
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
In India, where the sun shines all year round, placing solar panels on the roof is a no-brainer
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 internally.
The long term benefits to such a scheme are obvious, helping 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.
“In many ways, this project is pointing the way forward,” says Audi Environmental Foundation Director Rüdiger Recknagel.
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. For this particular project, imitation is not just a form a flattery but 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,” says Recknagel. “So Nunam shares its knowledge to motivate more initiatives to develop products with second-life components that can drive the eco-social revolution forward.”
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