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Exponent Energy - Scaling EV Adoption Through Affordable Rapid Charging

November 17, 2023
10 mins

Over the past few years, India has taken giant strides towards securing its electric mobility future. Investments have swelled, crossing USD 1.2 billion in deal value in just the first eight months of 2023. Adoption has picked up pace as well, with more than 87,000 new EV registrations in September 2023 alone, clocking an impressive 30% year-on-year increase over September 2022 figures. Further, through iterative technology application loops and productive synergies between government initiatives and the private sector to stimulate demand and shore-up charging infrastructure, the 0 to 1 leap for EVs has been accomplished.

EVs today offer an obvious upgrade over internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles with “better torque, negligible vibration, and a superior drive experience.” A plethora of EV models adorn our roads today and the total cost of ownership (TCO) has also become favourable for several form factors. In many states, adoption rates—the share of EVs in total new vehicle sales—have crossed, or are close to crossing, the 13.5% symbolic threshold (see Figure 1), thereby affirming the growing shift towards increased customer adoption of zero tailpipe emission vehicles.

The journey ahead—from 1 to 100 and beyond—will, however, need concerted efforts to simplify the underlying energy paradigm. Exponent Energy is working hard to make that happen. The company is spearheading the development of an affordable and reliable 15-minute rapid charging solution by using a scalable energy stack to unlock the true potential of commercial EVs in India.  

Figure 1: EV adoption in many states is on the cusp of “crossing the chasm”. Source: Omniplex

The Problem Space

The traditional EV energy train is slow and expensive

The energy flow dynamics between the charger and the battery pack are yet to be simplified to enable growth at scale. The charger and the battery pack typically do not communicate in a manner sophisticated or granular enough to allow for rapid charging without adversely affecting the battery’s health. EV charging is, therefore, a tech-heavy, two-sided problem, which needs close coordination between OEMs and charging-tech developers. The reluctance to make design and operational choices in line with this reality has led to both painfully slow charging times—often taking upwards of 4 to 8 hours—as well as short battery lives with over 30% battery degradation over just 1,500 charging cycles.

Figure 2: The EV energy train is broken. Source: Exponent Energy

Commercial EV fleets are shackled by suboptimal, low-efficiency outcomes

This broken energy train results in suboptimal outcomes for all stakeholders (see Figure 2). OEMs try to assuage range anxiety and the absence of a dense charging network by installing larger and bulkier battery packs which lead to higher costs and limits the load carrying capacity of the vehicle. Charge point operators on the other hand have to tussle with low energy throughput, high unit prices of energy, and low utilisation levels resulting in high user tariff and low charging station profitability.

The most severely impacted, however, are owners and operators of commercial EV fleets. Commercial vehicles constitute just 10% of the vehicles on India’s roads but make up for almost 70% of the total road transport energy demand. The biggest bottleneck for electrification of commercial vehicles in markets like India is the availability and speed of charging – sparse charger networks and long charging times nullify any potential upside from EV adoption. Commercial vehicle owners earn by the hour, and it makes no sense to expect them to wait for 4-8 hours to fully charge their vehicles. These entrepreneurs also need flexible schedules and typically fuel up once a day to manage cash flows. Combine this with the cost of the pack and price sensitivity of emerging markets, and we are at an impasse for adoption at scale (see Figure 3).

Further, low efficiency and low profitability further exacerbate issues relating to financing. Slow charging leads to increased downtime for vehicles, lowering the owner’s earning potential and increasing the “earnability risk” for financiers to underwrite. Meanwhile, the inherent unpredictability arising due to the unreliability of prevailing packs and their short battery lives makes it hard for financiers to offer attractive terms with long tenures and low interest rates. EV adoption thus finds itself in a quagmire with bulky batteries resulting in high initial costs and the presence of limited credit support to offset this imbalance.

Figure 3: Commercial 3W EV sales have not kept pace with 2W and passenger 3W sales. Sources: OMI EV Ready Dashboard, Vahan Dashboard.

Rapid charging comes with dangers of lithium plating and generation of extreme heat

Rapid charging has typically been riddled with two major issues— lithium plating and extreme heat. When battery packs charge rapidly, lithium-ions can gradually crowd around the anode, resulting in significant battery deterioration. Similarly, 15 minute rapid charging utilises 16x the current usually required for slow charging, consequently generating 256 times the heat compared to slow charging over 4 hours. Managing heat of this magnitude is hard. If not managed properly, it can breach the thermal sweet spot of 25-35 degrees Celsius for the battery pack, endangering its health and making rapid charging well nigh impossible. Conventional liquid cooling is often inadequate to systematically dissipate the heat involved due to the negative temperature gradient, with Li-ion cells requiring operating temperature in the 25-35 degrees Celsius range and the ambient temperature being around 40 degrees Celsius.

Existing battery packs and associated charging components are of poor quality and have not been designed with Indian conditions in mind

Indian road conditions demand the most robust safety standards. Unfortunately, a large number of the battery packs in operation today use poor quality cells which are susceptible to short circuiting due to manufacturing irregularities or design inefficiencies. 99% of battery fires, in fact, are caused by “short circuits leading to uncontrolled current.” Battery design can have a similarly large impact on battery safety with the internal packaging of cells strongly influencing the thermal and structural integrity of the pack, especially under Indian road conditions. Significantly, battery management system (BMS) design also plays an incredibly important role by ably managing the voltage, limiting lithium dendrite build-up, safeguarding against overcharging, and preventing thermal runaways. Most BMS systems being used in EVs today are incapable of fulfilling these roles, having poor sensing and accuracy capabilities, and near zero cell level intelligence.

Exponent Energy’s Solution

15-minute rapid charge delivered by a flexible, programmable, and scalable energy stack

Exponent Energy is a solution that lines up perfectly to tackle the problems mentioned above. It offers cell-agnostic, 15 minute rapid charging capabilities by using a flexible, and highly programmable energy stack that employs a proprietary battery pack, charging station, and connector—aptly called the e^pack, the e^pump, and the e^plug respectively—to offer a seamless charging experience that promises to let you “recharge like you refuel”. While they are currently focusing on LFP cells, their technology is scalable across cell chemistries, voltage, and capacity, and comes with a 3000+ cycle battery pack warranty. Exponent Energy has thus created an elegant solution which does not disrupt TCO requirements for commercial fleet operators.

Figure 4: Exponent has developed an elegant two-sided solution. Source: Exponent Energy.

Unlocking virtuous cycles of EV adoption growth and stakeholder profitability

Rapid charging can initiate a virtuous cycle with faster charging leading to higher charging station utilisation, lower costs per unit of charging, and higher energy throughput. This should translate to cost savings for end-users and improved margins for charge point operators. Further, rapid charging eliminates the need for having large, bulky batteries thereby reducing initial costs plus allowing for relatively greater load carrying capacity since large battery packs are both heavy as well as space inefficient. A longer battery life can additionally help improve underwriting, catalysing better financing terms with longer tenures and reduced interest rates.

Countering lithium plating with its proprietary smart BMS, virtual cell model, and dynamic charging algorithms

Exponent solves the issue of lithium plating using its proprietary smart BMS, virtual cell model, and dynamic charging algorithms. Their smart BMS can handle three aspects— sensing, algorithms, and protections, adding extra layers of safety and intelligence to each. The BMS offers state of the art impedance management capabilities with algorithm supported cell insights to ensure 10x faster cell balancing. As the fastest balancing BMS in the world with 10x better voltage sensing accuracy, its advanced thermal management allows it to offer peak performance with a 3000 cycle life warranty with 100% rapid charging even at 50 degrees Celsius with minimal battery degradation.

The BMS relays information on temperature, current, and voltage to the virtual cell model, allowing it to monitor lithium crowding in real time. If critical thresholds are breached, the charging algorithms step in to “course-correct and proactively prevent lithium plating.”

Managing extreme heat through a state-of-the-art off-board thermal management system

Instead of relying on a bulky HVAC system mounted on the vehicle itself, Exponent utilises an off-board, “water-based” HVAC system housed in the e^pump which transfers refrigerated water at 10 degrees Celsius through the connector to cool every cell in the battery pack, thereby allowing Exponent to undertake 15 minute rapid charging at any ambient temperature.

Building a rapid charging solution optimised for Indian conditions

In addition to an advanced BMS, a robust battery pack must be strong with respect to its mechanical aspects, most notably its thermal and structural properties. Exponent Energy’s battery pack is tested extensively to ensure that it can take the wear and tear associated with usage in Indian conditions. The emphasis on structural integrity “guarantees reliability on Indian roads and takes on all environmental challenges (dust, underwater etc.)”

Prominent Industry Partnerships

Figure 6: Exponent Energy’s industry partnerships. Source: Exponent Energy

Exponent Energy x Altigreen

Exponent Energy has partnered with Altigreen Propulsion Labs to launch the fastest charging three-wheeler in the world with best-in-class volumetric load capacity and ground clearance. The three-wheeler cargo EV, named the neEV Tez, offers a vehicle warranty of 5 years/ 1,00,000 kilometres and a battery warranty of 5 years/1,56,000 kilometres, with an unprecedented warranty of 3000 rapid charge cycles.

Figure 7: Exponent Energy has partnered with Altigreen. Source: Economic Times

Exponent Energy x Park+

Exponent has partnered with Park+, a super app for car owners, to make finding an e^pump as easy as finding a petrol pump. The partnership envisions to set up 1000 public-use “Park+ EV Zones powered by Exponent” charging stations, deployed across high-demand hotspots of EV utilisation. Rapid charging allows for a much higher vehicle throughout on the same piece of land. More vehicles, in turn, equals more energy, making the e^pump a highly profitable proposition.

Exponent Energy x Fyn Mobility

Through its partnership with Exponent Energy, Fyn Mobility aims to undertake the roll-out of 1,500 Altigreen-manufactured three-wheelers, which can be rapid-charged in 15 minutes using Exponent’s technology. The partnership aims to re-tune the “EV-as-a-service industry to look at cross utilisation of EVs as a metric of scale rather than just the number of EVs deployed.”

Exponent Energy x Alt Mobility

AltMobility, a commercial fleet leasing and lifecycle management platform, has partnered with Exponent to to lease 1000 Altigreen neEV Tez electric 3-wheelers, powered by Exponent in a bid to empower affordable EV ownership . To enable EV adoption at scale, AltMobility is offering a 5 year financing option with 30% lower monthly EMIs compared to the industry average. With competitive financing rates and extended EMI tenures, the partnership envisions to make electric mobility “accessible, financially viable, and convenient.”

Figure 8: Exponent Energy has partnered with Alt Mobility. Source:Auto Guide

Exponent Energy x Montra Electric

Montra Electric has joined hands with Exponent Energy to launch a rapid charging three-wheeler equipped with Exponent’s e^pack. The partnership aims to create zero compromise EVs which can deliver “uptime and flexibility in operations needed for last-mile mobility”.

Exponent Energy’s Impact

India’s reality necessitates the adoption of small battery packs which can undergo rapid charging through publicly available infrastructure. Exponent aims to create large-scale impact by simplifying EV energy flows through its rapid charging energy stack. The company’s solution comprising its e^pack, e^pump, and e^plug affords industry leading cost metrics and energy throughput, with some of the highest daily utilisation levels in the world.

Table 1 highlights select charging related operational metrics for Exponent. Presently, over 30 e^pumps have been installed across Bengaluru. The company plans to expand its operations to five more cities, namely Delhi NCR, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Chennai, and Ahmedabad by the end of 2023. By 2025, it plans to deploy 1000 e^pumps and power 25,000 EVs.

Table 1: Select operational metrics for Exponent Energy. Source: Exponent Energy

The world’s fastest charging three-wheeler, Altigreen’s neEV Tez, backed by Exponent’s tech stack is delivering 30% more revenue on a daily basis compared to other EVs; 70% fuel cost savings against diesel; and 100% more flexibility to fulfil demand anywhere (see Figure 9).

Figure 9: neEV Tez’s advantage over comparable vehicles. Source: Exponent Energy

Exponent’s solution offers an unmatched proposition for commercial vehicles, with rapid charging capabilities allowing operators to run two shifts a day with a single vehicle thereby doubling the utilisation levels and galvanising significant cost reductions. Exponent powered commercial vehicles enjoy a 30% TCO advantage over comparable EVs, and a near 60% advantage over ICE vehicles. The increased uptime enabled by Exponent also helps address the “earnability risk” discussed earlier. Further, Exponent’s product stack eliminates the need for large charging hubs for parking and slow charging multiple vehicles. Additionally, as indicated earlier, the 3000 cycle warranty on the battery pack also opens up a host of financing opportunities, with Exponent’s partnership with Alt Mobility, for instance, paving the way for widespread EV adoption through highly amenable terms on tenure and interest rates. Table 2 below highlights some of the advantages enjoyed by Exponent powered commercial vehicles.

Table 2: The Exponent advantage for commercial vehicles. Source: Exponent Energy

The e^pack’s battery life has been successfully tested for 3000 cycles by TUV India (TUV Nord Group, Germany) and found to undergo a mere 13% degradation over this process compared to the industry standard of 30% degradation over just 1500 slow charging cycles. This constitutes a major milestone for the industry where fast charging for regular Li-ion cells, say LFP,  has typically come at the expense of battery life.

Over time, the company aims to further unlock the market for driver-cum-owner (DCO) ownership and leasing models by enhancing access, flexibility and TCO viability. Moreover, by improving the quality of data available through its stack, Exponent can catalyse data backed EV financing for DCOs.

For its efforts and successes, Exponent has been recognised by various industry fora. It was recognised as one of LinkedIn’s top startups of 2023. It was also featured in the Forbes Asia 100 to watch 2023 list. Recently, it got the chance to present its technological solution to various stakeholders at the G20 Summit 2023 - Bangalore Deep Tech Showcase held at Indian Institute of Science (IISc). The company’s solution was also featured as a case study in the prestigious APAC Cleantech 25 Report for 2023.

Figure 10: Exponent’s SDG Focus

The Way Forward

Exponent Energy is eager to lead the category creation for rapid charging infrastructure. By continually innovating across the components and processes relevant to the charging cycle, Exponent is primed to irreversibly tilt the TCO balance in favour of electric for 3-wheeler cargo and other light commercial vehicles, thereby drastically improving their prospects for mass adoption. Accelerated uptake of electric commercial three wheelers can act as a bellwether in India’s pursuit of widespread mobility electrification. 3one4 Capital is excited to continue its partnership with Exponent as it simplifies energy for EV charging across form factors and geographies.

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