In a bid to tap the Indian Space Research Organisation’s famed frugal engineering skills, Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari has entrusted the space agency with a rather unusual mandate — develop the prototype of a battery than can be retro-fitted into old diesel vehicles for delivering motive power.
Gadkari, who has already had two meetings with scientists from ISRO on the issue, told The Sunday Express, “I have asked ISRO to develop lithium-ion batteries which can be used in 10-year old diesel cars. The ticket size will be cut in half and the issue of pollution will also be addressed.”
ISRO’s recent Mars mission had a price tag of about $74 million, a fraction of the $671-million cost of NASA’s latest Mars programme. Last June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that India spent less to reach Mars than Hollywood producers spent on the movie “Gravity”.
Gadkari’s request to the ISRO comes at a time when most cities in India find a place in the list of the most polluted urban habitations in the world. Vehicular pollution in Delhi has reached record levels, with respirable suspended particulate matter at 316 micrograms per cubic metre pegged at almost 16 times of what is normal, which prompted the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to ban 10-year old diesel vehicles from plying in the national capital. The tribunal, however, later put a stay on the order after the Delhi government said it will take time to implement it.
The Delhi government has said it will agree to the phase-out if the Central government amends the Central Motor Vehicle Rules (CMVR, 1989) and fixes the life time of both private as well as commercial vehicles. The Centre, on the other hand, has filed an application against phasing out vehicles more than 10 years old, arguing that the number of old diesel vehicles in Delhi is small and banning them will have a negligible impact on air quality. It even submitted that emissions from the transport sector are not major.
While the impasse is yet to be resolved, the tribunal has directed Ministry of Road Transport & Highways to submit its views on capping the total number of vehicles, scrapping old vehicles, car pooling, and incentives to those who want to dispose their old vehicles. The NGT has also asked the Central Pollution Control Board to file additional data in support of its report on pollution in the NCR.
ISRO, known for its innovation and frugal engineering, could well come up with an answer to India’s pollution woes, feels Gadkari. “It cannot be implemented immediately. The development (of the battery) will take some time. But it will help resolve the problem,” he said.
Technically, almost any vehicle — petrol driven or ones with diesel engines — can be converted to electric. There are numerous options for the battery pack, which provides a source of electrical power, with the most commonly available and affordable batteries being the lead-acid flooded type. Then there are the AGM (Absorption Glass Mat) sealed maintenance free batteries that are a little more powerful and expensive. Batteries such as the Li-ion ones, while being lighter and long lasting, are more expensive.
The conversion requires the mounting of a charger, which restores energy to the batteries, a power controller that regulates the flow of energy between the battery and the electric motor, controlled by an electronic throttle. One or more electric motors and their mechanical attachment to the driveline can also to be added.
Globally, there are several instances of such conversions. Epic Car Conversions, a Toronto-based design firm, engineers electric drive systems used for converting gasoline cars into 100 per cent electric vehicles. Models include the 1969-1976 Porsche 914, one of the more successful sports car conversions that boasts of better performance in range, acceleration and top speed than most other vehicles.
A number of manufacturers of conversion kits have made a kit specific to the 914. A 1983 Mitsubishi Starion is reported to have been converted to all-electric in 2009 by Carmel Morris and Nathan Bolton in Australia with a battery pack consisting of 45×3.2 volt nominal lithium ion batteries.
In India, Mumbai-based firm EVI claims to have developed an easy installation and reliable line of powertrains ranging from 8kw up to 90kw nominal power, suitable for both automotive or marine applications. The EVI conversion combines motors with an integrated inverter, control electronics and software, with no separate large, heavy and costly inverter needed, according to the company.