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Batteries are boring. Banal even. A breakthrough is always around the block but no real upgrades in hand. Being application specific, different for the phone, laptop, car, home, grid and so on; each gets used for only a certain period in the day. So, redundant even.

Now, think of a battery you can use in your two-wheeler, car, carry home as a Powerwall, take to work or pack as a compact box for when you go camping. A universal battery pack so to say. Like today, we use power banks for electronic devices.

Akhil Aryan wants to decouple energy storage systems from applications. “Because the end user gets no value from the actual ownership of the battery,” says the 26-year-old founder of ION Energy. A 20-month-old company in Mumbai, ION has standardised a form factor, say a few 13-inch MacBook Pros stacked on top of each other, so that batteries that back up consumer homes also back up the grid, supercharge electric vehicles, and do much more. “I have a vehicle, I drive 20 km; you have a vehicle, you drive 200 km. But we both go to the gas station to buy gas, not own the gas station.”

So, why own the battery? The answer is a timely argument that goes well with the electric vehicle wave that is sweeping India and other parts of the world. Lithium-ion batteries, the kind used in phones and laptops, are undergoing a historic scale up; there’s a steady fall in the cost of storing energy, nearly 50% drop in the last five years. Still, and Tesla’s Gigafactory notwithstanding, these batteries remain expensive and short of a wholesale economic makeover.

Enter ION.

Its battery pack architecture and the accompanying management software allow it to rapidly build batteries, from 5 Volts all the way up to 1000 Volts. But ION doesn’t call itself a battery company; it’s an energy storage ‘infrastructure’ company. “If you build infrastructure, it eliminates the need for [serving] custom companies,” says Aryan, lifting a ~10 kg, 105x220x355 mm, black case, which, if not for the hardware clutter around, could pass off as a sound box. Branded as Udyr, the battery is being readied for a formal launch at the Hannover, Germany, battery show in May where ION will also announce its first Udyr customer, a European two-wheeler company.

Company-provided teaser image of Udyr

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Earlier this month, when ION acquired the seven-year-old French battery management company Freemens SAS, and brought its 32-year-old founder Alexandre Collet as a co-founder, it made two tall claims: It’d “disrupt both the EV and energy storage markets”. With head and shoulders above the market price, $400-500/MWh against the prevailing market rate of $270/MWh, what does ION base its math and confidence on?

AUTHOR

Seema Singh

Seema has over two decades of experience in journalism. Before starting The Ken, Seema wrote “Myth Breaker: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and the Story of Indian Biotech”, published by HarperCollins in May 2016. Prior to that, she was a senior editor and bureau chief for Bangalore with Forbes India, and before that she wrote for Mint. Seema has written for numerous international publications like IEEE-Spectrum, New Scientist, Cell and Newsweek. Seema is a Knight Science Journalism Fellow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MacArthur Foundation Research Grantee.

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