Elon Musk, CEO of auto major Tesla, believes that 100 gigafactories could sustainably power the whole world through a new, ascending global currency. Lithium. 

Musk might be the visionary here, but it’s the Chinese who’ve captured the lithium zeitgeist. 

Hitting its stride a decade earlier than India, China not only strategically stockpiled a supply of essential minerals but also laid out elaborate subsidies to completely localise the ore-to-battery supply chain. This was helped by a wafer-thin wall between the private sector and the state. 

Today, the country is home to three of the world’s largest gigafactories. Each plant, roughly the size of 100 football fields, generates one gigawatt (GW)—or 1,000 megawatts (MW)—worth of lithium-ion batteries. 

Tesla’s Gigafactory 3 in Shanghai, China’s fourth, is now ready to begin production. 

Tesla’s hardly the only one powering the shift to lithium. Battery-makers like Korea’s LG Chem, China’s BYD and CATL, as well as Japan’s Panasonic are doubling down on lithium-ion battery production to capture the world’s largest electric vehicle (EV) market in China.

With a mission to electrify 30% of its vehicles by 2025, what share does India have of this global, lucrative and largely Asian manufacturing pie?

Currently, zero. 

India’s stamp on the global lithium-ion value chain has been negligible so far. Even with a marginal slow down in the sale of EVs in China in 2019, the country still leads India’s EV sales total by 400,000.

However, a new plan is in the wings.   

Niti Aayog, the Indian government’s policy think tank and self-appointed EV cheerleader, is getting involved. It has rounded up a high-powered working group to plan and execute the National Mission for Transformative Mobility and Battery Storage. The goal? To launch 4-5 gigafactories in India to ensure a constant supply of lithium-ion cells and battery packs for EVs and energy storage by 2024. Each factory will have a capacity of 10 GW—enough to power 40,000 electric buses—ramping up production capacity to 50 GW by 2024. 

The think tank aims to put India on the expanding global gigafactory map. Lowering the country’s dependence on China is next on the list—between 2015 and 2018, India’s imports of lithium-ion cells swelled 6X to $1.2 billion. China accounted for nearly 90% of this.

With China monopolising most of the value chain, India’s had an embarrassingly late start in this global race. It took Niti Aayog more than six months to cobble a draft plan together. Tesla took less time to set up its Gigafactory 3.

The think tank is confident that the draft plan will have global battery majors lining up.

AUTHOR

Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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