German-Indian start-up Nunam is putting three electric rickshaws on the streets of India. These rickshaws are powered by battery modules that came from Audi e-tron test cars. The goal of the project is to figure out how modules from electric car batteries can be reused after they have been used in a car. At the same time, the goal is to give Indian women who use these e-rickshaws to move their goods more business opportunities. Audi's environmental foundation, the Audi Environmental Foundation, is helping the new non-profit company get off the ground. The three prototypes were made by Nunam and the apprentices at the Audi factory in Neckarsulm. The intense cultural exchange also taught the apprentices a lot.
As part of a pilot project, these electric rickshaws with batteries that have been used before will hit the streets of India for the first time in early 2023. They will be given to a non-profit organization, where women, in particular, can use an electric rickshaw to get their goods to markets where they can sell them without going through intermediaries.
These e-rickshaws get their power from used battery modules that were once in an Audi e-tron. Prodip Chatterjee, one of the founders of Nunam, says that the old batteries still have a lot of power. "If used in the right places, second-life batteries can have a big impact and help people in tough situations earn money and become financially independent in a way that is better for the environment."
The main goal of the new company is to find ways to use used batteries as power storage devices for a second time. This will make the batteries last longer and make better use of resources.
"A car battery is made to last as long as the car does, but even after it has been used in the car, it still has a lot of power left over," says Chatterjee. "They look good for vehicles that need less range and performance and weigh less overall." As part of this "second life" project, we recycle electric car batteries in electric vehicles, a lighter form of electric mobility. We want to see how much energy the battery can still provide in such a demanding application.
"An electric rickshaw is the best choice for the environment," says Chatterjee, who is 31 years old. The electric car's battery has a lot of energy packed into it, and the vehicle itself isn't cumbersome. Because of this, the electric motor doesn't need to be very powerful because rickshaws in India don't go very far. There are already a lot of electric rickshaws on the streets in that part of the world. But they usually run on lead-acid batteries, which don't last very long and aren't always thrown away properly.
At the same time, rickshaw drivers charge their cars with electricity from India's public electricity grid, which gets most of its power from coal. Nunam has a solution: their rickshaws get their power from solar charging stations. There are a few solar panels on the roofs of the local partners in the project. During the day, an Audi e-tron battery acts as a buffer to store energy, and in the evening, the energy is sent to the different rickshaws. This means that driving is primarily free of CO2 emissions in the area. This means that the electric rickshaws can be used all day and still be charged in the evening and at night. Putting solar panels on the roof is a great idea in India, where the sun shines all year long. Also, the charging stand was made just for this purpose.
Nunam regularly checks how well their e-rickshaws work and how far they can go. All of the information they collect from e-rickshaws is shared on the open source platform circularbattery.org, with a clear call to action to do the same. "Programs like Nunam's are needed to find new ways to use e-waste," not just in India but worldwide. That's why Nunam shares what it knows to get other companies to make products with second-life parts, which can lead to more environmental and social change, says Rüdiger Recknagel, CEO of the Audi Environmental Foundation, which is the company's ecological foundation. Since 2019, the foundation has helped Nunam.
Also, the battery may not be done being used even after it has been used in an Audi e-tron and an electric rickshaw. In the third step, you could use the rest of the energy for something that stays in one place, like LED lighting. One of the founders, Prodip Chatterjee, says, "We want to use the electric car battery as much as possible before sending it to be recycled."
In the long term, electric cars and solar energy can help India become less dependent on fossil fuels like coal, cut down on the huge amount of pollution on the roads, and give people a reliable source of power. "This project is groundbreaking because it looks at things from different points of view," says Rüdiger Recknagel.
A lot of the work is done by a group of 12 apprentices led by Timo Engler, who is in charge of engineering and logistics training in Neckarsulm. On the team, there are skilled auto mechanics, auto painters, tool mechanics, automation technicians, and professional computer scientists. "The apprentices and the team at Nunam work together all the time." We have an open line from Neckarsulm to Bangalore. The apprentices have replaced the internal combustion engine with an electric motor and built the bottom so that there is room for the second-life batteries and they are also protected from water from the road. They have used as many things as possible that can be recycled.
During construction, the focus is on the range, the time it takes to charge, and the design. This is how a rickshaw with Audi DNA is made, says Engler. "It's important that the apprentices are involved in the project from start to finish and can give their ideas a try." "Doing is the best way to learn," we say. At the same time, we teach basic information about changes in electric mobility, resource efficiency, and charging technologies in a way that is almost fun. It is a groundbreaking project because it links the current megatrends of sustainability, electric mobility, internationalization, and social responsibility.