Evolution of the Battery: In Conversation with The CEO of Prolite Autoglo Ltd. Mr. Harsha Joshi

3with Mr. N. K. Gupta (Group Editor “Fire & Safety” Magazines)

Mr. Gupta – So Mr. Harsha you've been into emergency lighting from so many years and you're one of the pioneers today in India and your emergency lights and converters are in demand all over the world. So definitely a battery, which is the life of any emergency light I suppose, is a very important thing. Can you tell me something about what has changed in the battery itself over the years? What it was yesterday and what it is today? And also what is the difference between the Lithium battery that has come now and the Nickel Cadmium battery which you have been using and what are the pro's and con's of these? Can you tell me in your own words from your experiences?

Mr. Harsha Joshi- My experience started in 1984, being a trader in the electrical field I entered the field of emergency lighting and I had no idea what it was, what is a battery, except from childhood everybody used to call me battery because I was wearing spectacles. That was the only knowledge I had about batteries when I came into emergency lighting. Now, to my surprise when I entered the field of emergency lighting, there was a battery which was a lead-acid battery, it was a lead-acid wet battery, that means you had to fill in water in that particular battery. So emergency lights basically till that time, till the early 80's were made with lead acid- battery, in which we had to put distilled water.

Mr. Gupta – Wasn't that very heavy and big and cumbersome?

Mr. Harsha Joshi- It was at that particular time, and then slowly by '84 when I came into the field, people were transforming from lead-acid battery wet types to dry accumulators they were called. So they were lead-acid batteries, but they were sealed batteries. My experience, I'll just add up another 30 seconds into it, I went to Bangalore to one of the manufacturers and he gave me a dry sealed battery. From there I went to Delhi for a particular work. When I reached Delhi, I sent my clothes for a wash and all my clothes came with holes in them. So in fact that sealed battery which was not supposed to leak, had leaked in my bag.

So that's when I realized that even sealed batteries can leak. Then from lead-acid sealed batteries, the world transformed into Nickel-Cadmium batteries. Lead-acid batteries were big batteries, huge batteries. So first we had lead-acid wet batteries, then we had lead-acid dry accumulators which was also called sealed lead-acid batteries which were called SLA's which is till today very common in home computers – the domestic UPS which you buy today, has got that particular battery.

Every computer has got that lead-acid battery in them even today. Right now we are in 2018, 34 years down the line. So for small applications like emergency lighting and other things, people went from lead-acid to a different battery which was Nickel Cadmium (NICD). Then slowly over the years as things happened, Cadmium was banned and Cadmium was supposed to be dangerous and worldwide Cadmium was being phased out. Then came the Nickel metal hydride battery. Till about 4-5 years back, if you see all the old mobile phones that we had, had the Nickel metal hydride battery (NIMH). Now Cadmium had Cadmium in it that's why it was banned, because even if today's news if you see, the e-waste that they are talking about, they only bothered about lead, which was there in the previous battery, Cadmium, which was there in the next generation battery, then they came up with Nickel metal hydride, which was a much safer battery, and in the last 5-10 years we have come up with Lithium batteries. Now Lithium batteries which were small and had a better particular shelf life plus discharge life in cyclic terms. All batteries are known for their cyclic life.

Mr.  Gupta – What is the meaning of cyclic life?

Mr. Harsha Joshi- Cycle means one charge and one discharge. So the previous batteries used to give you 200 cycles approximately, the lead-acid ones, then came the sealed lead-acid which used to give 200-300 cycles, then came Nickel Cadmium and Nickel metal hydride, which used to give you 300-500 cycles, then came Lithium which again used to give you about 500 cycles. And then came the revolution of Lithium batteries, which they say it can go up to 700-1000 cycles also if it is controlled, charged, etc. The most tricky part of the battery is, everybody thinks it's very simple, even for solar, you use lead-acid batteries, you use deep discharge, everybody thinks it's very simple, that we just charge a battery and its starts functioning, it does, but after six months or three months if you don't control the charging and the discharging of the battery, it becomes redundant.  So the difference between a good manufacturer and a bad manufacturer is that while both manufacture the same product, that guy gives us a cheaper price because his protections are lesser and he doesn't stay in that line for more than one or two years because by the time he realizes, all his material comes back within the warranty period. So battery controlling charge and discharge is the most critical part as you've seen in the case of laptop model manufactured by a top global company about 8-10 years back that started exploding. Then you saw a similar incident concerning a major mobile phone brand too. So a lot of companies have faced millions of dollars worth of losses because they could not control the battery charge and discharge in a proper manner. So battery management is a very tricky subject.

Now, the latest battery type has come only last year. When I was tour, I went to a particular factory which was making Life PO4 batteries, that is the latest Lithium battery which is used for vehicles and helicopters and similar things wherever electrical transportation vehicles are being used they are transforming into Po4 because more energy can be fitted into a smaller place, the weight is much lesser than a sealed lead-acid battery.

Mr. Gupta – And the cycle?

Mr. Harsha Joshi- The cyclic life is now supposed to be more than a 1000 cycles but I don't know, it's yet to be proved. Battery again is a very interesting thing. Temperature plays a very important role. So, if you talk about hot regions like in Africa or Asia or other countries where the temperatures go above 25, 30, 40 degrees and the normal life of batteries come down drastically.

Mr. Gupta – And risk also increases…?

Mr. Harsha Joshi- Risk of explosion definitely increases. But that's more dependent on the circuit than the temperature. If you over charge a battery, it will explode. If you trouble your wife too much, she will explode. So that is the particular risk that is there. So that's the journey of batteries and today you have much more smarter batteries coming in. In the future, we may see smarter and different types of batteries. That's all.

Mr. Gupta – So as far as typically emergency lights are concerned, how do you feel at the moment about the batteries in use?

Mr. Harsha Joshi- We use all three types of batteries. The sealed lead-acid which was there from the 80's because for higher discharge loads that's a very reliable and a very reasonably priced battery for higher loads, then for smaller loads we use Nickel hydride batteries(NIMH), and for exports and other projects we use Lithium batteries. Coming to Lithium now, according to the Indian standards it is not yet acceptable in India, though the approvals are on the way and it'll come through.

Mr. Gupta – At the moment it's illegal, isn't it?

Mr. Harsha Joshi-  It's not illegal, but it's not there in the equivalent specification sheet which they have sent,  because it takes time for the government to move on with the changing technology day to day. So, maybe they're little bit far off, so they will be coming into that particular thing and approving Lithium because Lithium is being used everywhere today.

Mr. Gupta – But you have introduce Lithium into emergency lights today, you've already started?

Mr. Harsha Joshi- We've already started but we're doing it mostly for exports.

Mr. Gupta – How is the feedback?

Mr. Harsha Joshi- It's good, it's again, much more smaller, the size is much smaller, the voltage is lesser so where we're using LED's or we're using smaller voltages of LED's, Lithium is more preferable at the moment.

Mr. Gupta – Now tell me something about the cost factor… from the beginning you've told me about the life of the battery, how it has evolved from one stage to another, from liquid, huge, cumbersome ones to the sleek ones.. but what about the financial involvements? Because as a marketer or as a businessman, you've to look at the financial side, in fact anybody has to look at the financial side also. So what is your view on the financial aspect of batteries today, yesterday?

Mr. Harsha Joshi- If you take a small emergency light, a domestic emergency light which used to operate one tube light which now operates a lot of LEDs, you had a 6V4AH battery, that was a standard battery for emergency lighting worldwide. That particular battery today costs about approx. Rs. 200, that is for the sealed lead-acid battery. If you convert that into Nickel Cadmium, it would go up about 3 times, if you convert that to Nickel metal hydride, the price will go up about 5 times, the same Voltage and the same Ampere, if you convert into Lithium, the price will go up about 7 times. So that way there is a huge price difference between the basic model which was there, and the latest technologies in use. So people prefer to use different batteries depending on the discharge current and the wattage of the lamp that they are operating. If it's a small LED lamp, you don't require a Rs. 200 battery, then you can downsize your battery, then you can get a Rs. 100 Lithium battery to operate instead of a Rs. 200 battery, so it becomes cheaper while you also use the latest technology. So it all depends… There's lot of competition.

Mr. Gupta – Are those high end batteries today manufactured in India or are they all imported or are there people coming up now or what is it?

Mr. Harsha Joshi- My experience is that sealed lead-acid batteries could not be delivered in good quality and good quantities in India, even after 20-30 years. In that particular field a lot of factories came in, Exide has just come in 10-15 years back, there were lot of small manufacturers doing it, mostly batteries are not manufactured in India. I don't know any plant of Nickel metal hydride or Nickel Cadmium in India even if somebody may have put up, they may have shut down because imports come in a big, huge quantities. About Lithium and  PO4, I don't know at the moment… maybe  in' MAKE IN INDIA' some people must be putting up a plant here because Modi is on the verge of now shutting down the imports of different products so that we make our own products, our people get jobs over here and labour can be utilized.

Mr. Gupta – So you mean the technologies in India are not yet up to the world-class in the field of batteries?

Mr. Harsha Joshi– It is… it's technology along with raw material, the purity of lead, the purity of metals which come, I think that makes a difference, or maybe the operation cost or the factory set up cost is too huge, and we don't cater to a big huge market like the Chinese or other particular manufactures do. Even if you see Europe and all have stopped manufacturing batteries, they get everything done in China, Korea, Taiwan and other places. So I think it's a lot to do with the manufacturing process, the availability of raw materials and the market because everybody goes to those countries and they export to 100 countries so they have a huge business. Plus the environmental aspect is there.  China has become a gas chamber now because of all this so now they are putting restrictions on their own manufacturing processes.


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