Audi and startup Nunam are using e-tron battery modules to build the ultimate electric rickshaws.
What to do with the batteries of an electric vehicle once the life of the car is over? You can recycle them for use in a new car. Or you can do what Audi did and put the second-life cells into another sustainable form of transport: an e-tron rickshaw, Audi’s first-ever tuk-tuk.
Bringing the classic rickshaw into the 21st century
Self-driving rickshaws have long been a staple in countries where the roads are far too congested for cars and the average person can’t afford their own vehicle anyway.
Movement of people, commerce, and leisure, they are usually powered by very old gasoline or diesel engines which can emit more smoke than they produce. The high levels of pollution they leave behind are why countries like India are scrambling to switch to electric rickshaws to replace fossil fuels.
India already has millions of e-rickshaws on its roads. But the vehicles – called tuk-tuks in many countries – aren’t as environmentally friendly or as good as they could be. Most of them use lead acid batteries. The same batteries used in your gasoline powered car, in this application they may have a short lifespan. They also cannot store much energy and are extremely harmful to the environment if not properly recycled.
A startup called Nunam is working with Audi to give e-rickshaws more advanced EV technology.
Why this instead of recycling the cells?
Nunam co-founder Prodip Chatterjee talks about the potential of second-life batteries for electric vehicles:
[EV] the batteries are designed to last the life of the car. But even after their first use in a vehicle, they still have plenty of power. For vehicles with lower range and power requirements, as well as lower overall weight, they are extremely promising. In our second life project, we reuse electric car batteries in electric vehicles; you could call it “lightweight” e-mobility. In this way, we try to find out how much power the batteries can still provide in this demanding use case.
Nunam will use battery modules sourced directly from Audi e-tron test vehicles. The test vehicles are at the end of their useful life, so the batteries would normally be recycled into new cells using an energy-intensive process. Nunam’s goal is to find a second or even third use for the battery cells. He says this life extension is a more efficient use of resources.
Green energy charging solutions part of the project
Nunam will bring three of the e-tron powered electric rickshaws to India. He will also be responsible for bringing them to end users. Another goal of the pilot project is to help women across the country more easily bring their wares to market for sale, boosting both their physical and economic mobility.
Since much of India’s power grid uses coal, Nunam will also provide solar charging. The solar panels will charge another e-tron battery during the day and transmit this energy to the e-rickshaws at night.
Nunam will monitor the batteries to get an idea of how much second life they can provide. Even after the Audi tuk-tuk, the batteries won’t be dead yet. Chatterjee says the cells could then end up in applications such as LED lighting in a home. “We want to get the most out of every battery before we recycle it,” he said.
The three e-rickshaws destined for India will be more traditional, but Audi and Nunam are making one to show off in Berlin – complete with Audi e-tron-style packaging to make sure you know Audi is paying for it. Trainees and technicians from everywhere Audi joined in the process of electrifying the rickshaw.
Visitors to the Greentech Festival in Berlin will be able to take the e-tron tuk-tuk for a test drive from this month.
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