This startup looks to make batteries smarter and last longer with an AI based cloud platform [Interview]


Why Read This?

  • Learn about the how and why of battery management systems (BMS).
  • Find out about an Indian startup working on the software layer of battery technology with clients on a global scale.
  • Learn about the role AI can play in improving the life of a battery.

ION Energy is a Mumbai-based startup offering a range of battery management solutions aimed at improving the life and performance of lithium-ion batteries powering electric vehicles and energy storage systems.

This includes the ION Energy platform focused on proprietary battery management systems for lithium-ion batteries and Edison Analytics, a backend platform that combines battery data, analytics and AI to remotely monitor and improve battery life.

Having acquired Freemens SAS – a French battery management systems developer – in 2017, only a year after inception, the company says it now has a strong presence in SE Asia, North America and Europe with over 40 enterprise clients.

With a broad, global transition to electric, and with progress in li-ion being largely stagnant, the technologies that underlie battery management have come to the fore, aiming to allow OEMs, battery manufacturers, fleet operators and others to manage and improve battery lifecycles, reduce degradation, and ultimately positively effect their bottom line.

We spoke with Akhil Aryan, Co-founder and CEO @ ION Energy to find out more about the startup, the importance of battery management systems, their AI-based backend platform ‘Edison’ and the state of energy storage in India.

Could you give us a short intro to ION Energy and its history?

The energy space has always been very close to my heart. I believe that building, maintaining and optimizing the Energy Ecosystem is the greatest opportunity of our generation. Not only from a financial unit economics point of view but also environmental impact. 

I founded ION Energy in 2016 with a clear mission to accelerate Earth’s transition to an all-electric planet. ION is one of the world’s most advanced battery management and intelligence platform that is building technology for electric mobility and energy storage.

We initially started as a battery pack maker. We’ve built a few battery packs and the idea throughout was that in an ideal world you would be able to access the battery independently of a vehicle, just like when you use an ICE vehicle, you only pay for the distance you drive. 

Soon enough, we realized that if we wanted to make energy available as a service instead of an asset, we need to extend the life and performance of the batteries to make it a viable solution. That’s how we started designing our own BMS and found a few companies we could partner with. 

In 2017, we acquired an 8-year-old French Battery Management System (BMS) developer – Freemens SAS, in a first of its kind cross-border acquisition and started commercializing our flagship BMS platform. 

ION Energy Battery Management System Model ‘FS-LT’

Please shed some light on the importance of Battery Management Systems for our readers and how your offering stands out.

Electric vehicles are powered by batteries, which need careful monitoring and maintenance. They come with fixed lifespans, safe operating levels, and charge/discharge cycle track. Due to their high energy density, long lifespan and lightweight, Lithium-Ion batteries are favored by EV manufacturers.

Here, criteria such as voltage rating and Ah (ampere-hour) rating indicates when the battery must be charged. To attain higher voltage and Ah ratings, the cells are connected in series or parallel combinations. In fact, manufacturers often custom design the cell for improvising on application-specific characteristics.

Here is what really sets the battery of an electric vehicle apart from the fuel tank of a conventional vehicle: 

Firstly, safety. When operated at a constant voltage, while drawing large amounts of current, the temperature of the vehicle may sharply rise due to thermal runaway. Thanks to the volatile composition of a lithium-ion battery, it might even catch fire. This obviously risks the safety of the vehicle and passengers.

Further, the chemical composition of a Li-ion battery tends to deteriorate over time and intensity of usage. The charge/discharge rates, as well as the efficiency, begins to decrease with age and usage. When crucial performance parameters dip below/ shoot above normal value, the user must be notified. Thus timely repair or replacement can be initiated. 

With all these affecting factors, to preserve the health and lifespan of a battery, a battery management system is essential. If the battery is the heart of the vehicle, the BMS is its brain. It maintains optimum performance and notifies the user in case the health fails. It monitors various parameters to collect data for enhanced battery life and health. Be it simply alerting in case of under/overcharging, a sudden spike in temperature or a prediction for battery aging, a timely notification from the BMS can enable the user to take steps to prevent further damage.

Essentially, what ION does is that it offers the fundamental layer of battery technology & software that Battery Makers and OEMs leverage to build world-class batteries.

It is a battery management and intelligence platform with a focus on building technologies that improve the life and performance of lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles and energy storage systems. We leverage advanced electronics and software that accelerates the effort of engineering teams. 

ION Energy Battery Management System Model ‘FS-XT’

Tell us a little about Edison Analytics.

The life of a lithium-ion battery, on average, is up to 3 years or 500-700 charge cycles, after which, they need to be replaced. With batteries in modern EVs amounting to over 40% of the vehicle cost, there is anxiety around their life, performance (charging time, safety, etc) that requires more than just local safety protection. 

At present, the expected life of the battery is largely unknown and based on assumptions made by most companies. Because of the huge cost investment in li-ion batteries, it is critical to optimize the battery life, and the key to improving battery life lies in the data. By being able to remotely monitor, manage and improve battery life, Edison Analytics will make a data-driven case for consumers and fleet owners to choose EVs.

A full-stack advanced battery management and intelligence SaaS platform solution, Edison uses Data Science, Machine Learning, Digital Twin technology to determine, predict and exceptionally improve the life of lithium-ion batteries by up to 40%. 

A screengrab of ION Energy’s Edison Platform

What can you tell us about the AI part of Edison Analytics, which you say ‘improves battery life by 40%’?

Lithium-ion batteries today, are powering EVs, homes & large solar/wind micro-grids. They have one of the highest energy densities of any battery tech, a relatively low self-discharge, & require low maintenance, while on the other hand, they have a limited life that could be affected by usage, charging patterns and the environment in which they operate in, etc. 

On average, the life of a lithium-ion battery is up to 3 years or 500-700 charge cycles, after which, they need to be replaced. Today, the expected life of the battery is largely unknown and based on assumptions made by most companies. Since batteries amount to 40% of the actual vehicle cost, it becomes critical to optimize the battery life

We identified the underlying, core potential of battery data, leveraged it with machine learning, artificial intelligence & analytics to accurately determine, predict and improve battery life. 

Our battery intelligence platform Edison Analytics has been designed to use predictive intelligence and analytics to make sense of battery data and derive valuable insights, that can considerably reduce the overall ownership cost. 

Edison Analytics unifies data from the triple Es that majorly impact on battery life, i.e. entity (factors that are inside the battery), environment (factors that lie outside the battery but beyond the control of the user) and experience (dependent on user conditions). Edison amalgamates and assesses the data from these three sources to to customize the life and performance.

Edison uses real-time simulations and visualizations to accelerate deployment speed, data analytics to improve uptime, and machine learning to improve battery life. It ingests and analyzes data sets to identify what factors are contributing to abnormal degradation of health and what is their magnitude of contribution so that businesses can take appropriate actions like configuration changes over the air, drive profile changes or environment changes to extend battery life by up to 40%. 

A screengrab of ION Energy’s Edison Platform

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How did you go about choosing to go down the SAAS route as opposed to bespoke deployment?

Bespoke software development has advantages like ability to customise or tailor make the solution to fit the exact need of the customer. In case of Edison Analytics, it would mean developing the exact analytics, reports and insights which a particular customer would look for.

We took the SaaS approach with this flexibility in mind. Edison Analytics allows the user to customise the software by making changes to the model, dashboards, reporting and insights to make it fit their needs, but without having to build a costly bespoke software.

Thus Edison Analytics carries the advantage of a flexible solution without increasing the costs. 

Would it be safe to say that the software and BMS layer of battery technology is where innovation is truly happening, considering progress in li-ion seems stagnant? Is that impression correct?

Batteries contribute to 50% of the total cost of an electric vehicle. These include: 

  1. Cells: Practically a commodity, cells have a similar power and energy capacity, are engineered by many brands in the market and made available for all battery makers. 
  2. Battery pack assembly: Battery pack manufacturing is simply an assembly and design function. The packaging is offered by all battery makers and only differs as per the needs of the application 
  3. BMS & Software: This is where innovation truly happens. In an electric vehicle, the battery management system and software are the core differentiators between battery pack makers. The ‘brain’ of the battery – BMS and the software is responsible for safety, communication, performance, and better battery life. The software constantly helps monitor key parameters like the State of Charge (SoC), State of Health (SoH), residual life, etc, to gain key insights into the health of the battery. 
‘ION Trace’ – A companion app to track the lifecycle of assets.

How has your experience been working with a number of industry behemoths?

We’ve had a brilliant experience working with enterprise customers and a majority of customers are committed towards accelerating the all-electric transition.

Working with large enterprises has enabled our Battery Management Systems to become versatile and multi-functional across applications (low voltage to high voltage) and lithium-ion chemistries.

We’ve taken up electrification projects with OEMs to help them explore multiple lithium ION chemistries. Since our products are chemistry agnostic we are helping them to benchmark different chemistries and their performance. Our Platform has helped our clients scale up their battery deployments faster and reduce time to market.

Have you deployed your technology to non-vehicular environments like microgrids? What is the state of energy storage in India in that regard?

We have deployed our platforms in other sectors like Energy Storage, Telecom, Defence, etc.

At present, more than 90% of the ESS (Energy Storage Systems) market in India is completely driven by government policies.

As per the ISGF report on Energy Storage System in India – roadmap for 2019-2032, the total requirements of ESS for grid support is 17 GWh by 2022, for e-Mobility is 40 GWh and total from all sectors is 178.5 GWh by 2022. Depending upon the overall economic growth and development of the infrastructure sectors, this could be certainly above 100 GWh.

Most of these are likely to be imported. The cumulative demand of ESS by 2032 estimated is in excess of 2700 GWh which is a strong case for setting up of giga-scale battery manufacturing plans in India on fast track. [Source]

What is your take on the current government policies towards the EV ecosystem?

Government policies are paving the way and playing an important role in the all-electric future by encouraging electric vehicle adoption, enabling faster deployment of charging stations and improving affordability. The push for Electric Vehicles in the country is truly commendable.

It’s important to encourage localisation of battery technology and not be reliant on China and other countries as lithium-ion batteries amount to a significant cost of an Electric Vehicle.

GoI seems committed to developing the complete EV ecosystem that includes charging infrastructure, manufacturing batteries and other components domestically, which is definitely the need of the hour. 

What’s next for ION Energy?

ION is building a core layer of infrastructure to enable electric mobility and clean energy adoption in Asia with a focus on India. We are aiming to rapidly expand our global operations to 20+ countries and set up new branches in the USA and Bangalore. Our target is to sell over 50,000 BMSs and have upwards of 1GWh of batteries under management on the platform by 2020.

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