There is potential to evolve battery chemistries to circumvent the problem of key raw material shortages that India currently faces in scaling-up manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries, claims Bhavish Aggarwal, chairman and group CEO, Ola. The 36-year-old entrepreneur, who has almost been evangelical in India’s quest to leapfrog into electric mobility, was speaking on the sidelines of Mission Electric, Ola Electric’s vision for electric mobility—both in the two and four-wheeler space. Cobalt, lithium, and nickel are three critical raw materials that are required in the manufacturing of battery cells.
“India does not have any lithium reserves, because lithium hasn’t been surveyed in India yet,” Aggarwal tells Fortune India. He explains the company is exploring alternate chemistries to lithium. “This will fructify in the long term. We’re also working on sulfur-based chemistries, which will also fructify in the long term.”
He also says that Nickel is going to stay around in cell chemistries for a while, and Ola Electric is looking to ink partnerships to source Nickel supplies. “Indonesia is a major source of Nickel, so we’re looking for partnerships in that direction,” he adds. He also says that cobalt is not significant in cell chemistries because of the ongoing innovations in battery chemistries. “We’re looking at developing chemistries that would use a very low amount of Cobalt, and in the middle-term, look to develop cobalt-free chemistries. We’re working towards chemistries which would be independent of Cobalt,” he adds.
Ola Electric recently announced a marquee investment of $500 million for setting up its state-of-the-art Battery Innovation Center (BIC) in Bengaluru and has also recently unveiled its first in-house developed Li-ion cell, NMC 2170. Aggarwal says the Li-ion cells developed at BIC will be mass-produced in its Gigafactory in 2023, and towards the end of 2023, the cells will be deployed in its product line. Ola Electric recently also inked the agreement to obtain the 20GWh capacity allocated under the ACC PLI scheme by the Government for developing advanced cells in India and is setting up a cell manufacturing facility with an initial capacity of up to 20 GWh.
Battery cells of any EV make up 25% of the total cost of the vehicle. Currently, there exists a gaping hole in the supply chain of EVs, because most OEMs import battery cells as India does not have access to the raw materials for prevalent chemistries. The supplies have also been vulnerable to geopolitical disturbances, with a prolonged geopolitical conflict between Russia and Ukraine severely impacting the import of lithium, among other precious metals, as Russia has been a major supplier.
It is why Aggarwal has exhorted deep localisation and self-reliant supply chains in India’s EV ecosystem. “We simply don’t want to sell products which were made elsewhere; manufacture products that were developed elsewhere. We should be investing in R&D; the core technology. We should invest now; invest aggressively; invest at scale,” he explains. According to him, India missed the bus on semiconductor, solar, electronic and other manufacturing revolutions, but the EV ecosystem has given Indian an opportunity to match developed economies with the latest technology. “But everyone around the world is still getting started with electric cells and batteries. If we invest now and at scale, we can lead the market," he said at the event.
Aggarwal also believes the EV revolution is untenable if low-quality technologies are imported, and it needs to be discouraged. Although he has eschewed delving into the exact amount that will be invested in realising Ola Electric’s vision, he alludes that the investment will be to the tune of multi-billion dollars, made in tranches over several years. “Recently, we haven’t raised any capital. We have a strong balance sheet; strong relationships with equity and debt investors, and as in when the need comes, we will raise capital,” he adds.
Aggarwal also broke the cover of Ola Electric’s ambitious four-wheel project with the first public reveal of a car, which is slated to debut by the summer of 2024. Ola’s new car claims to go from 0-100 km/h within 4 seconds and is being developed to have a range of more than 500km on a single charge. In a move to democratise EV adoption, Ola also launched the all-new Ola S1 scooter on the occasion, a pocket-friendly version of its S1 Pro scooter, at an introductory price of ₹99,999. “We reneged on selling the S1 when we started to sell the S1 Pro to re-engineer it, and cancellations of our scooters have come down,” Aggarwal tells reporters.