“Formal Contracts For Long-Term Commitments Are Not Always Necessary”

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Bollini Energy collaborates with various companies interested in understanding the complete value chain of Lithium-ion cells. They offer technical services that span from mining to battery pack integration. In a conversation with EFY’s Nitisha, Rahul Bollini, the Founder of Bollini Energy, discusses his company’s technical services and expertise…


Q. How did you set up Bollini Energy?

A. I returned to India from the USA in 2015, having previously immersed myself in Lithium-ion cell development during my college years. Continuing my engagement with lithium-ion cell research institutions, I initially collaborated with a startup that was aiming to establish a cell manufacturing plant. Through rigorous laboratory research, we achieved significant advancements in cell development. As my expertise expanded, I actively shared insights at exhibitions, forums, and seminars, particularly with Indian companies in the EV and battery-related sectors. This journey culminated in the establishment of Bollini Energy, through which I’ve provided consultancy services to nearly 60 companies over the past nine years, including over 20 MNCs, shaping the landscape of Lithium-ion cell technology.

Q. What industry does your service target?

A. My service extends to various companies and institutions in the Lithium-ion cell industry. This includes manufacturers of cells, raw materials, and equipment and those designing infrastructure and conducting research. I also support companies producing battery packs, BMS solutions, and components, along with those developing IoT solutions for cloud connectivity and data analytics. Moreover, I collaborate with institutions providing battery-related workshops and technical training, offering comprehensive support across the entire value chain of Lithium-ion cell technology.

Q. What kind of technical services do you provide? How do you engage with the clients?

A. I offer my services flexibly, including one-time, monthly, or yearly arrangements, which can be conducted virtually or in person. I maintain regular communication with my clients, conducting weekly visits or phone calls to stay updated on their progress. I receive many emails and calls from various companies each month.

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Q. What factors drive interest in India’s battery pack assembly business?

A. There are hundreds of battery pack assembly companies in India. They import cells and sometimes BMS from abroad and source other materials locally to make the final battery pack in India. These cells are assembled in series and parallel to achieve the desired voltage output and discharge capacity. Many companies that consider battery pack assembly businesses eventually enter into it because the investment required for it is not very high, yet it offers substantial revenue potential. However, it comes with higher working capital, but the turnaround time is short if cells and BMS are sourced from local trading companies. A battery pack including locally sourced materials can be assembled in under two days.

Q. What would you suggest to someone looking to establish a battery manufacturing facility in India?

A. Selecting market segments is paramount when establishing a battery pack manufacturing facility. For instance, the landscape varies considerably within the realm of electric vehicles (EVs). Large electric vehicles such as cars, trucks and buses produce batteries alone. The available battery pack potential for EV market is the following:

  • Low speed electric two-wheeler
  • Medium/high speed electric two-wheeler
  • L3 category low speed electric three-wheeler
  • L5 category medium speed electric three-wheeler

The market is growing, and new regulations, such as Delhi mandating the use of lithium-ion batteries for e-rickshaws, are accelerating the shift towards lithium-ion batteries. Low-speed vehicles primarily use lead-acid batteries, but there is a rapid shift towards lithium-ion batteries. Additionally, the replacement battery market for older electric vehicles is also adding to the demand for lithium-ion batteries.

The low-speed electric vehicle market (two-wheelers and three-wheelers) is on the rise, particularly in two-tier and three-tier cities. Setting up battery pack facilities in such cities to cater to local demand can be a good market. Furthermore, I offer insights into local markets, dealer networks, and geographical strategies to help potential battery manufacturers effectively tap into the vast potential of the Indian EV market.

Q. Please describe the process of setting up a cell manufacturing project, including factors like cell types, chemistry, market dynamics, and the challenges.

A. Firstly, it’s essential to make the customer understand that it’s not ideal to use a single type of cell to serve all applications. For instance, creating a pack with a large prismatic cell won’t work for solar streetlights or scooters. Cells vary based on several factors: chemistry, cell shape (thin pouch, thick prismatic or round cylindrical) and capacity. I help them understand which type of cell suits which application and the appropriate chemistry. I guide them in understanding the type of cells to be used such in terms of various cell characteristics. I also provide information about potential customers, including OEMs and battery pack manufacturers. Once they decide, the next step is finding a company capable of producing the required cell.

Most of the cell production happens in China and I know about the companies there and their strengths. I have been in the cell manufacturing R&D space for many years and have been visiting China for many years. I initiate discussions with the client and the technology company, focusing on scope, expectations, and technology transfer fees. After reaching an agreement, we move on to executing the project. Realistic timelines are crucial, and plant setup takes about 15 to 18 months. Construction requires specialized facilities due to the sensitivity of materials. These sensitive materials include raw materials like NMP solvent and electrolyte. Specific operating and storage conditions must be established for handling these materials during the cell production process. The layout of the facility also requires careful consideration. Technology companies often offer layout suggestions based on their experience setting up Gigafactories. Based on the finalized equipment’s footprint, an efficient layout is designed. Equipment quality is determined by accuracy and error rates, including how frequently errors occur. It’s essential to thoroughly evaluate the equipment before shipping it from the manufacturer. After the equipment arrives, a trial run is conducted to fine-tune the processes, which can take months depending on the experience of the team to handle large scale manufacturing equipment. Due to this, personnel training is a very crucial step. Different processes within cell manufacturing require various experts, such as electrical engineers for cell activation and grading and mechanical engineers for coating and calendaring.

The plant has numerous job roles, including software monitoring and various engineering positions. I assist in the recruitment process, ensuring the right individuals are placed in suitable roles based on their expertise. However, setting up a cell manufacturing plant isn’t the journey’s end. Cell technologies evolve rapidly, affecting market dynamics every 12 to 18 months. I aid companies in anticipating these shifts and adapting their strategies. For instance, adjustments are crucial if a company plans to produce a certain cell type but trends change during the setup period. Addressing challenges like machinery procurement, installation, and process optimisation necessitates discussions with tech firms and manufacturers, leveraging my experience from cell manufacturing sector.

Q. How do you advise clients with a specific location for setting up their factory?

A. Clients often have specific locations in mind for their factories, driven by resources or local connections. I don’t sway their geographical choices but provide guidance. Considering factors like state subsidies, especially for competing with competitively priced imports, is crucial. Staying impartial during location selection is key. Option for a state with a favourable business environment, possibly near a port, ensuring tax benefits and top-notch infrastructure for efficient logistics, even when sourcing globally for equipment and raw materials and for a truck to move around freely while carrying larger containers such as 40-feet containers.

Q. According to you, how much does it costs to develop a cell manufacturing plant?

A. The investment required for establishing a battery manufacturing facility depends on its size and the type of battery chemistry involved. The typical cost for a one gigawatt-hour (GWh) per year production facility for LFP cell ranges from 50 to 70 million USD (depending on the automation level), roughly ranging from 400 to 600 Crores in Indian rupees, covering equipment, infrastructure and other essential costs of bringing the plant to efficient running stages. Land and building costs would be extra. The cost of an NMC cell with the same capacity will be 25% to 35% lower since cell manufacturing happens in terms of CPM (cells per minute). NMC cells have higher voltage and higher capacity for the same size cell, and hence, the production capacity goes up.

Q. How do you balance your flexible approach to work and payment arrangements with ensuring your clients are satisfied and comfortable?

A. I prefer not to establish rigid legal agreements with clients, prioritising my passion for the work over strict financial arrangements. I offer short-term and long-term options, such as monthly retainers or hourly consultations. I’m well-regarded by Mumbai-based financial firms seeking insights into tech trends, often discussing startup potential and evaluating public companies. I’m also in touch with large corporations and mutual funds for technical recommendations and endorsements, adapting payment terms based on familiarity and flexibility rather than strict contracts.

Q. With a small team, how do you handle your projects?

A. I have a small team that works internally to support my technical tasks. For my projects, I work with the company’s existing team and build a team if needed, where we can share different ideas and work towards them. So, that is the whole concept of my working style.

Q. Do you offer training programs or courses as part of your services?

A. I specialise in technical support for companies and faculty development program to academic institutions and frequently help out PhD students interested in the batteries and its new trends. My primary objective is to foster growth in the battery industry, encourage local manufacturing, and support the EV sector’s expansion. I offer training opportunities for individuals, allowing them to work alongside me for short durations, gaining specialized knowledge and hands-on experience through internships tailored to their expertise and interests.

Q. Do you offer a workforce also?

A. That falls outside my purview. However, I can assist in the recruitment process by conducting interviews. I can analyze the basics of the candidate to determine who is best suited for a particular task.

Q. Are you planning to do any online or offline programs in future?

A. I am open to collaborating with good colleges and institutions, where I can provide some technical classes, which will be about deep technical know-how of cell manufacturing, pack manufacturing challenges, upcoming updates, potential, etc. My agenda is to reach the masses and educate them about batteries.

Q. How has the market grown in the last few years?

A. The last year was good in market growth, and we can expect similar growth in the coming years.


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Nitisha Dubey
Nitisha Dubey
Nitisha Dubey is a journalist at EFY. She focuses on startups and innovations with a deep interest in new technologies and business models.

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