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India's Ola Electric working to build solid-state batteries, chairman says

A man checks his mobile phone as he waits while recharging his Ola electric scooter, in New Delhi

By Nandan Mandayam

(Reuters) -India's Ola Electric is working to build solid-state batteries and expects its vehicles to be powered by its own cells next year, the founder and chairman of the SoftBank Group-backed electric scooter maker said on Saturday.

"We are in very early stages of our experimentation on solid state batteries," said chairman Bhavish Aggarwal.

Aggarwal said he expects Ola's own cells to power its electric scooters, among India's most-sold, by early next year, when commercial production begins at its cell 'gigafactory' in Southern Tamil Nadu state.

The factory, owned by a unit of Ola Electric, has been selected for the government's battery manufacturing incentive scheme.

Solid-state batteries are expected to offer improved safety, a longer lifespan and faster charging compared with conventional lithium-ion batteries that use flammable liquid electrolytes. But mass adoption has proved difficult due to constraints in raw material availability, intricate manufacturing processes and the resultant high costs.

Japan's Toyota Motor, the world's largest automaker, is a big proponent of solid-state batteries and expects to launch them globally in the next few years.

Ola does not currently produce its own cells but sources them from South Korea's LG Energy Solution and China's Contemporary Amperex Technology.

Localising cell manufacturing is seen as a key step in bringing down upfront costs of EVs, with cell sourcing among the biggest costs for most EV makers.

The Bengaluru-based firm has already begun manufacturing of the more efficient 4680 form of battery cells, but only for testing.

These cells are known to be more efficient than their widely used 2170 counterparts, but many, like Tesla, have struggled to scale up production.

Ola's 4680 cells have received a key domestic certification, Aggarwal said. The company will have an initial capacity to annually produce about 1.5 gigawatt hours (GWh) worth cells, for which it has invested $100 million, he added.

(Reporting by Nandan Mandayam, writing by Nikunj Ohri, editing by Andrew Heavens and Christina Fincher)