As an engineering student of the 90s, this question evokes an emotional response to forecast the end of the engineering marvel invented in the 19th century coming to its diminishing term. The lab models at engineering colleges teaching IC engines to many mechanical engineers evolved from the ideal carnot engine to the gasoline-powered internal combustion engines converting heat energy produced by combustion to kinetic energy on the wheels. Piston, crankshaft, cylinder head, cylinder blocks, flywheel and camshafts are on their way to be preserved in a grand engineering museum in the future.
Towards a safer planet
This question is now becoming more important and the driving force behind this is consensus among the world population towards making our planet sustainable and world leaders agreeing to a commitment to reducing carbon footprint by working together. India has committed to becoming net zero by 2070 and part of our ambition is also to generate energy from renewable sources with our plan to achieve 500GW by 2030.
Gasoline-powered IC engines having provided service to world humanity for more than a century has application spread across multiple areas in the field of mobility via motor vehicles to boats and aircraft and in applications like power generators, lawn movers, chainsaws, etc. The need to switch towards alternative energy sources, especially in the Indian context are emerging from two aspects:
Environmental pollution: At least 10 cities in India appear among the top polluting cities of the world, Delhi is the world’s most polluted capital.
Import cost burden: The cost of crude to our economy (₹1681 B in FY’22).
Adaptability of e-powertrain
The new baby full of energy on the anvil to replace IC engine is the e-powertrain with electric permanent magnet servo motors powered by the energy stored in the form of charged batteries.
The adaptability of e-powertrain is growing rapidly in India across all the motor vehicle segments with two wheelers and three wheelers leading the race here. The share of EVs in India has been marginal (2.61% in FY’21), but the growth rate is accelerating (in triple digits) over the last two years. 95% of the EVs sold in India are in the 2W and 3W segment. On the other hand, segments like last mile mobility trucks, city transport buses and passenger cars plying within cities are accelerating in reaching the threshold limits.
Migrating to e-mobility
The excitement to shift to e-mobility is evident from the fact that 400+ registered EV manufacturers in India are working on various manufacturing e-vehicles, battery packs, BMS, electric motors, transmissions, control units, invertors, charging infrastructure, etc.
The first segment to achieve 100% electrification would be the 2W, and 3W segments because 40% of air pollution is caused by them and they constitute 70% of our automobile sales. The challenges for an adaptation like battery technology, charging infrastructure, manufacturing process, and scaling up, and most importantly consumer acceptance is improving. We can expect that by FY 2027, IC engines will start diminishing and 100% EV’s will dominate in this segment.
The next segment, which will achieve quicker adaptation would be the 4W mini trucks used for last mile mobility and transporting small goods within city limits. Various state governments have set ambitious targets to make them 100 % electric by 2030.
The ambition also is evident on the plans to convert the city transport buses into 100% EV by 2028. Mumbai having commissioned a double-decker EV recently is a milestone on this front.
Accelerating EVs by the government
Another noteworthy fact to mention, which is helping in the adaptation of EVs in India is the government initiatives under FAME policies, encouraging manufacturers to get incentives under the PLI scheme. Also, new business models like shared mobility and battery swapping methods are being adopted to ensure that the cost of ownership is reduced.
While India has set a target of achieving 30% of EVs by 2030 and has not announced any policy or legislation to switch off IC engine manufacturing and the market forces are driving the change towards shifting to new technologies, the current situation also states that no new vehicle platforms are designed considering IC engine. In fact, all new vehicle platforms designed are considering electric vehicle as the key prime mover powered by a battery pack.
Addressing challenges with electrification
The challenge towards electrification in application devices like lawn movers, power generators, goods transport devices in logistics warehouses, etc., is not significant and we have already seen a shift from IC engines here.
The challenges, however, are higher when it comes to adaptation across all segments especially long-haul vehicles, i e, passenger vehicles and good transport vehicles. India had its specific challenge here because we had started to roll out vehicles complying with BS VI emission norms starting April 1, 2020, which triggered investments across all automotive players in preparing their IC engines prepared for the same. While the industry was expecting soaring sales, it was the pandemic that hit us hard. Hence, the return on investment took a beating.
Looking ahead now, we are on the uptick path of our V curve. We are now leaping towards adapting electrification with challenges as well. The first factor is when it comes to energy storage in the form of battery technology, such as:
Time to charge
Battery and cell technology in manufacturing and recycling
Scalable manufacturing process of battery pack assemblies
Cost of an electric vehicle vs ICE counterpart, etc
Making the Indian industry future-ready
We need to derive the cell technology needed for the Indian subcontinent that is suitable for tropical conditions and establish scalable manufacturing. We are today dependent on importing cells from outside India. If this challenge is not addressed, then we might have to import cells instead of oil. It is, however, noteworthy to mention that smart start-ups and industry players in India are progressing in manufacturing advanced cell chemistry. Also, they are taking advantage of government incentives for making 130 GWH capacity in India.
Another key common factor that plays a key role is to produce energy sources not by damaging the environment, i e, not from coal mining resources especially, but to generate from renewable energy sources like biomass, wind, solar, etc. We need to derive and achieve our Eureka moment in cracking the power of hydrogen as an energy source and to produce them environment friendly and transport their safety.
There are key announcements from the Indian government in the form of the Green Hydrogen Policy on August 22 earmarks the key milestone in this initiative. Key corporate players’ announcements and investment commitment of greater than ₹ 600B will help in putting India in the leading role in this segment to become a net energy exporter.
Adaption to electrification is not a choice, but a need. IC Engines will diminish in motorbikes, rickshaws, city buses, and taxi services on or before 2030, while it would take another few years to achieve electrification in long-haul passenger vehicles, trucks, etc.
With India celebrating its 75th Independence year now, and various government machinery working towards this common mission of finding an alternate form of energy for powering Indian needs and at the same time corporate India shouldering this key long-term need, we are very well poised to see a greener future, keeping the challenges in mind as well.