TechSprouts is a platform to engage with the deep science ecosystem in India

TechSprouts Newsletter: October 2023

Rise of lithium alternatives, tech-driven climate solutions and much more

Content from TechSprouts

Enabling technology-driven climate solutions for emerging markets [Observer Research Foundation]

Molecular diagnostics for early diagnosis of diseases- the way forward [Biospectrum India]

Deep science funding updates

  • Skyroot Aerospace, which is developing specialized space-launch vehicles, raised $27.5 million in its series B round from Temasek.
  • Manastu Space is developing green propulsion solutions for satellites, and raised an extended seed round of $3 million from the Indian Angel Network led by Tata Industries executive director KRS Jamwal, Jaideep Mehta, Sanjiv Bajaj, and Nitin Zamre.
  • Leucine Rich Bio, a company providing a genomics based platform to analyze gut microbiome raised an undisclosed amount in its pre-Series A led by a group of prominent doctors including gastroenterologists and oncologists and biotech entrepreneurs.

Deep Science Ecosystem Updates

  • A novel Sepsis technology co-developed by CCAMP & the Institute of Life Sciences, Bhubaneshwar has been licensed to a Dutch biotech firm SurvivX.
  • ImmunoACT announced the approval of India's first CAR-T cell therapy, NexCAR19, for the treatment of r/r B-cell lymphomas and leukemia from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO).
  • Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras) has partnered with IndusDC, which is the country’s first deep tech venture studio focused on startups working on decarbonization technologies.
  • The Union Cabinet of India has approved a memorandum of cooperation (MoC) between India and Japan on developing a semiconductor supply chain partnership. The partnership will focus on research and development (R&D), manufacturing, design, and development of adequate quality talent for the industry.
  • IKP Knowledge Park organized IKMC 2023, its annual flagship event to bring together various stakeholders in the Indian Biotechnology Ecosystem.

News from the research community

  • A team of researchers from the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (ICMR-NICED) have developed a two step PCR test for the detection of H.pylori and its clarithromycin- resistant variant.
  • Scientists from S. N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences have synthesized a class of porous and crystalline organic materials that can act as efficient and versatile electrodes for pseudocapacitors.
  • IIT Bombay’s National Centre of Excellence in Carbon Capture and Utilisation (NCoE-CCU) has developed a new energy-efficient carbon dioxide capture technology that converts carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide under electro catalytic conditions and ambient temperatures in the presence of water with potential applications in the steel sector.

Deep Science Thoughts

The rise of lithium alternatives in the battery space

As the world moves rapidly to a less carbon-intensive economy while still increasing its energy footprint, energy storage will be a key piece of the puzzle. A variety of solutions will be needed ranging from electrochemical storage a.k.a. batteries to long-term and more matured storage technologies like compressed air and pumped hydro. As an early-stage investor, we are very excited by the cutting-edge innovation in the field of electrochemical storage.

In essence, any reversible chemical reaction with an appreciable nominal voltage can be used to drive a battery chemistry. However, each chemistry scores differently across a number of important metrics, such as energy density, cycle life, and thermal stability to name a few. Right now, lithium-ion batteries currently rule the roost but are part of a dynamic and evolving competitive landscape. This competitive landscape has a wide range, consisting primarily of sodium-, zinc-, iron- and vanadium-based batteries, with these batteries consisting of less geopolitically sensitive materials, and also improving upon lithium on some technical parameters.

What’s driving the demand for lithium alternatives

Lithium-ion batteries are unparalleled at the moment for a majority of high-powered mobility use cases, with this advantage stemming from their high energy density. However, they also come with a few faults making them non-ideal for other use cases. For example, a battery for grid-scale utility storage should have as low a total cost of ownership as possible, which results in zinc, iron and sodium-based batteries outcompeting lithium due to their lower upfront cost, longer life and the fact they don’t need sophisticated thermal management.

Another crucial factor in the global decarbonization and electrification story is the heterogeneity of use cases. Batteries form the core of electric mobility, they can replace diesel generator sets at homes and industries, form crucial components of resilient microgrid solutions, and they can be used at utility-scale for overnight storage, frequency regulation and peak shaving. The plethora of use cases and geographic conditions of operation mean that there is no winner-takes-all chemistry across the board. A sodium-ion battery could compete with lithium in the mobility space, zinc-based batteries offer a better value proposition for stationary storage at utility and microgrid-scales, and an iron-based battery would win if the requirement is to store electricity for a week.

Battery innovation in startups around the world

This has meant that both established players in the battery space as well as startups around the world are rapidly developing alternatives to lithium-ion batteries to be deployed in the real world. CATL, the world’s largest manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries for EVs, has been actively developing a sodium-ion chemistry and claiming energy density on par with the lithium it would eventually displace. In the US alone, iron-based battery startups Form Energy and ESS Inc as well as zinc-based startup Eos have raised over $300M each and are rapidly moving towards large-scale deployment.

India is a rapidly emerging market in the space, and labs around the country have developed cutting-edge novel battery technologies in the last decade. This has translated to the rise and growth of startups like OffGrid Energy Labs (zinc), Rechargion, Indi Energy (sodium), Gegadyne and Energy Flow across the country, as well as the 2021 acquisition of UK-based Faradion by Reliance New Energy Solar for £100M. There is a robust support system both from the public and private sector in terms of providing opportunities for real-world testing and pilots, and a clear program from the government too to support these technologies once at scale via programs such as the production-linked incentive (PLI) for advanced cell chemistries. Another significant advantage that India has as a testbed and incubator for these technologies is the variety of conditions that these batteries can be tested in, making them globally competitive right from the outset. 

The opportunity in this space is immense, with upwards of 2TWh of batteries to be deployed by 2030, translating to a projected market size north of $200B, which reinforces the fact that different niches in the market and hence different chemistries have sizeable markets to capture and value to create. It is a fast moving space, with these chemistries not competing just with each other but with advances in the lithium space too, such as solid-state batteries, silicon anodes, and increases in cycle life. Overall, it’s an exciting space in a sunrise sector, and the time is ripe for entrepreneurs, investors and stakeholders to come together in this core part of the climate change mitigation effort.

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TechSprouts is a platform to engage with the deep science ecosystem in India