EV Battery Production & Consumption Ecosystem: Scaling, Smart Manufacturing & Sustainability

The burgeoning EV demand is expected to continue in near future. The huge burden on the entire ecosystem of EVB will also continue. To mitigate the impact, embracing I4.0 and adopting circular economy principles are bound to happen

The manufacturing world is currently witnessing three significant transformations: (i) Intervention of Industry-4.0 / smart manufacturing in factories, (ii) Initiatives in the Circular Economy (CE) for a sustainable future, and (iii) Accelerated replacement of fossil-fueled vehicles with environmental-friendly electric vehicles (EVs) in the mobility sector to reduce the impact on environmental pollution. The expected burgeoning growth of EVs will require exponential scale-up of the production of Electric vehicle batteries (EVB) which contain valuable metals - Lithium, Nickel, Manganese, and Cobalt from the earth. Such a scenario, with the conventional linear mindset of take-make-use-throw, is expected to create a huge burden on natural resources and hence calls for circular material production and consumption in the ecosystem. Such a circular system would demand appropriate monitoring, accurate tracking, an efficient collection system, enabling reprocessing technology, and finally customer mindset to adapt to the circularity culture.

Production Scale-up of EVBs

Data from the literature has indicated that the e-mobility market is one of the fastest-growing sectors today. It has increased by 30 per cent, from 2 million in 2016 to 7.2 million in 2019, and its expected growth is going to be still steeper. According to the Global EV Outlook report (2019), the battery-powered EV demand is expected to rise up to 40 million by 2030. Producing such a huge number of units is going to be a challenge in terms of raw materials, production process technology, and a waste-free supply chain. The apt enabler to such a large-scale transition is I4.0.

Smart Manufacturing of EVBs

The fourth industrial revolution (I4.0) has been a significant enabler in the growth of the manufacturing industry with increased digitization, interconnected products and processes, automation and robotics, and data-driven business constructs. The burgeoning EV demand numbers, shortening production lead-times, mass customization, error-free and precise aggregate assembly, lean production process, the requirement of electrostatic-discharged components and operators, standardization in interacting assets, processes, and systems, predicting EVB failures, effective asset utilization, affordable pricing, tracking battery-life, reverse supply chain for used EVB collection and reprocessing technology of end-of-life (EoL) EVBs are compelling the adoption of I4.0.

I4.0 extends the prospects of mass customization by introducing flexibility in the manufacturing process, thereby allowing companies to manufacture varied products thereby enabling the 3Vs- volume, variety, and velocity. Predictive maintenance, robotics, automation, and AIML (Artificial Intelligence and Machine language) together are ensuring optimal resource consumption, thereby reducing the unit product cost. With the support of Big data and IoT (Internet of things), production processes are made super-flexible. Technologies like augmented reality are supporting the assembly of EVs and artificial intelligence and data analytics are facilitating quality improvement and innovation. Besides, 5G technology is allowing intra-factory communication, thereby improving the automation of production processes and real-time monitoring of machines.

Digitisation is expected to improve responsiveness in the supply chain, IoT will reduce inventory levels and AIML will improve efficiency in the manufacturing of batteries. The application of RFID (Radio frequency identification) in tracking the battery and its remaining life can hugely support customer satisfaction and EVB EoL collection efficiency for its circular flow.

Sustainability Dimension of EVBs

Circular economy (CE) is a regenerative construct that facilitates waste reduction through reduced consumption, reusing, and recycling. Remanufacturing is a process of restoring EoL products into reusable form through the system of collecting, disassembling, repairing, reprocessing, and reassembling. CE can bring a systematic change that involves taking back the used material, re-covering material, and remanufacturing through redesign and repair. Moreover, in recent decades it has garnered a lot of recognition from researchers, practitioners, industry leaders, and policymakers for its role in sustainability.

CE routes back to secondary sources such as recycling, wherein waste batteries are now a source for manufacturing new batteries. The circular consumption flow of EVBs and their valuable metals through four reprocessing routes: (a) reuse of EVB after the premature failure of the vehicle into another, (b) use the EVB in non-EV stationary applications like inverters, (c) refurbishment of the EoL EVB to original quality and use afresh, and (d) recycle the parts to recover the valuable metals and use it in new EVB production. This recycling process is always going to be more energy efficient and prevents extracts from the earth thereby contributing not only to cost reduction but also to environmental sustainability.

In summary, the burgeoning EV demand is expected to continue in near future. The huge burden on the entire ecosystem of EVB will also continue. To mitigate the impact, embracing I4.0 and adopting circular economy principles are bound to happen. The four recommendations to the stakeholders are; to enhance the reprocessing technology (I4.0) for used EVBs, to make it cost-competitive and environment-friendly, improve the collection efficiency of the EoL EVBs, standardize and increase the life of the EVBs, and finally, create awareness amongst the customer on the power of circular thinking.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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