From Indian spacecraft and moon rovers to next gen electric vehicles and trucks, HSSMI’s Kumar Jothi has played a key role in bringing together the manufacturing facilities to produce batteries for pioneering applications. As part of our employee spotlight series, we catch up with Kumar on his achievements and where he sees the industry going next.
What is your role at HSSMI?
I am technical lead in the battery technologies team. I work closely with the rest of the battery team to deliver practical commercial consultancy projects to help companies scale up battery cells and packs. I also work on ground breaking research into next generation battery technologies and how to manufacture them. I’m based in the London office but I work with global clients across the whole supply chain – from those wishing to extract lithium from new mines, to Cathode Active Material (CAM) producers, Gigafactory developers and pack manufacturers. Few places are able to offer the depth and variety of work as HSSMI which makes my job very exciting.
What did you do before? What part did you play in the Indian moon landing?
Prior to joining HSSMI, I worked for many years for a South Korean company called Semyung which offered turnkey solutions for cell production facilities. As part of that role, we visited Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, ISRO in Trivandrum back in 2007 when they first started R&D into battery technologies. After some initial process engineering consultation, we helped develop and commission a pilot production line. From that line, the ISRO team were able to successfully develop and qualify li-ion cells for use in satellites and launch vehicles. Those batteries have evolved further and were used to help power the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft via its solar panels as it lies out in orbit. It is likely that a variation of those batteries were also used in the lander and rover currently on the moon. So I indirectly supported, and very early on, but I’m proud I played a small part in the genesis of India’s amazing achievement today.
What kind of projects are you working on just now?
At the moment I am working on some great projects with global OEMs. With one, we are conducting an impact study into how a change in battery chemistry can impact equipment and production at a Gigafactory. Even when changing the mix of li-ion chemistries to e.g. have greater concentrations of nickel or manganese, it greatly impacts processes and how production can be optimised. So we are running sensitivity analyses to identify where changes occur, what impact this has on equipment and process set up and of course on OpEx and CapEx. I am also working on a project led by Leyland DAF, and funded by the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) into supporting the scale up of battery electric trucks, at Leyland DAF’s production site in Preston. I am looking after the production blueprint for the battery pack assembly and how this feeds into the truck assembly line. I have also been working further upstream the battery supply chain and have delivered a number of projects on the production of Cathode Active Material (CAM) which is one of the most critical components in a battery that determines performance, efficiency, reliability, costs and durability. So it is important it is optimally produced and at the right scale.
What do you consider some of the most important developments in the battery industry at the moment?
Anything to do with new chemistries such as Magnesium ion, sodium ion, zinc ion or even solid state batteries. I think there is particular promise with Sodium-ion cells if we can overcome some inherent challenges with scalability and performance. Its benefits are that its materials can be sourced more cheaply – the sodium can even be extracted from seawater! The case for this is important – as existing materials such as Lithium and Nickel go up in price, whilst demand for batteries across a range of applications also increases, we need to look at lower cost batteries with lower cost and widely available materials. However, Sodium Ion has its challenges. There are gaps in the industry’s ability to increase production capacity whilst getting the same performance and right yield rates as lab scale demonstrations. As we move forward, it will be important that process engineers collaborate with chemists and equipment providers to ensure the chemistry is stable during manufacture as you scale up, and that equipment can be tailormade to support optimal production. Getting to giga-scale is important to unlock the economies of scale needed to make the cells competitive but it just simply does not work for Sodium-ion and many other chemistries at the moment until further collaborative development takes place.
What words of wisdom would you give a new business scaling up in this sector?
That it is worthwhile to invest in the development of your own cell technology if you have the skillsets. It takes time but if you build cells with your own intellectual property, you will eventually reap the rewards. This is the route that many big automotive OEMs are going down as they do not want to be overly dependent on independent cell manufacturers or beholden to their chemistries and production schedules.
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