Indonesia warms up with lithium-ion battery innovations

8 October 2018

The development of electric vehicle (EV) technology in Indonesia is still in its infancy and hindered by the conflicting plans of decision makers. Until they come out with more workable plans, researchers are working on one of the most vital components: the battery.

Even major EV players the United States, Europe and Japan, which Indonesia intends to compete with, are still trying to develop batteries that are more costefficient, powerful, durable and environmentally friendly, so that their products are as affordable as conventional cars.

Indonesia has assigned at least five reputable state universities and institutions to do research and development on the future clean, emissions-free vehicles — each focusing on specific aspects of the technology. The job division is part of the government’s ambition to make Indonesia independent in terms of innovations and start exporting electric vehicles in 2030.

So Sebelas Maret University (UNS) in Central Java’s cultural city of Surakarta is tasked with the innovation of lithium-ion batteries, the best-known in today’s market, in collaboration with state oil and gas company Pertamina. It is expected that their lithium-ion batteries can be mass-produced by the end of the year, starting with small ones suitable for motorbikes.

“We’re concentrating on products for motorcycles before we take up the challenge to make bigger batteries for cars,” the chairman of the National Electric Vehicles Acceleration Program, Satryo Soemantri Brodjonegoro, says.

Pertamina and UNS are setting up a joint venture that will make lithium-ion batteries. Already, they have found their first customer — a new electric motorcycle builder PT Gesits Technology Indo (GTI) owned by the automotive dealer PT Garansindo.

GTI is set to begin production of 5,000 electric motorbikes named Gesit, which means “fast and agile”, this December. The scooter is jointly designed by state-owned construction giant PT WIKA Industri dan Konstruksi and the Surabaya-based Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology. The prototype has been displayed to the public at motor shows.

When launching their business partnership in Bogor, West Java last year, executives claimed the 5 kilowatt (kW) scooter could hit a maximum speed of 100 kilometers per hour (kph) and travel up to 100 km on a single charge, which takes between 1.5 and 3 hours.

It is a milestone in the national EV industry and has been lauded as a breakthrough because most of the vital components are designed and made locally. If everything goes as planned, Indonesia will start exporting electric motorcycles in 2025 and electric cars in 2030, according to a roadmap drafted by the Industry Ministry.

Despite their popularity, lithium-ion

batteries have drawbacks that experts have been trying to overcome. In Indonesia, it is by no means a good choice; the metal has to be imported from Australia and China. Besides, Indonesia is yet to master the technology to make batteries from lithium.

“That means we have to be reliant on Australia or China, the two main lithium-producing countries,” Satryo says. “The ramifications are obvious. Indonesia would be in trouble if China stopped the supply as part of a competition strategy. We should have an alternative.”

Indonesia is trying to do everything to ensure that in the future all components are sourced and made locally to make electric vehicles more affordable to the masses.

As EV development is gaining traction, Indonesia’s potential

has attracted world players as well. Industry Minister Airlangga Hartarto has said two companies from China and France are interested in building lithium–ion factories in Halmahera in North Maluku, a major producer of nickel and cobalt, two basic materials to make lithium-ion batteries. Their combined investments may reach US$5 billion, according to Luhut Pandjaitan, the coordinating maritime affairs minister.

Once considered a big leap in battery technology, lithium-ion — like its predecessor cadmium — is going out of fashion. Scientists are working to replace it with more advanced technology. It is low in energy density, costly and susceptible to heat.

“The lithium battery contributes approximately 40 percent [to the production cost of an EV],”

Satryo says.

This disadvantage has prompted Japanese car maker Toyota Motor to develop a solid-state battery technology that is higher in energy density, charges faster and runs cold, according to Nikkei Asian Review.

The company is set to commercialize the product in 2022.

In anticipation of lithium-ion’s demise, Indonesian scientists are beginning to conduct research on better alternative technology.

“We are also looking at rare earth metals. We have a large reserve of these materials. We are still studying their potential for batteries and how to process them,” Satryo says.

The government has provided $10 million to support EV research and development this year. Interestingly, while Indonesia is struggling with the legislation, more institutions are jumping onto the EV bandwagon; the latest being state-owned weapons manufacturer PT Pindad.

To accelerate the pace, state electricity company PLN plans to install charging stations across the country.

Source: 8 October 2018