The Tamil Nadu-based Central Electrochemical Research Institute (CECRI), a research institute under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, has decided to set up a factory to produce batteries for electric vehicles.

It plans to invest ₹100 crore to set up the unit at its campus in Taramani, Chennai.

This is a marked departure for the research body that has developed technologies, on its own or as a sponsored initiative, and licensed out the know-how.

Now, nudged by V K Saraswat, Member, NITI Aayog, CECRI has decided to manufacture a product on its own. The funds for the plant, however, will come from CSIR.

CECRI developed lithium-ion based cells a few years ago. However, its efforts to licence out the technology were not successful. Some companies evinced interest in buying its technology, such as the Raasi Energy group, but nothing came of it.

Since then, the market for lithium-ion batteries has opened up with many entrepreneurs bringing in electric two/three-wheelers.

The Centre is pushing for e-mobility, with incentives and tax sops. Second, CECRI itself has come up with improved cells (cells are made into batteries).

At a meeting in Chennai in March, Saraswat wanted CECRI to join hands with the private sector for the manufacturing plant. There was talk of the Tiruchi-based Hi-Energy Batteries chipping in with some money.

But in view of the Centre’s emphasis on EVs and Make in india, it was decided that CECRI would not wait for a private partner’s funds.

Instead, CSIR itself will put in the money. The CSIR has the funds. Though not all its institutes are income generating, some, such as the Central Institute of Mining Fuel and Research, Dhanbad, make up for the rest.

At its Chennai campus, CECRI already has a small manufacturing unit, which can produce 100 cells a day. The capacity of this plant will first be raised to produce 1,000 cells a day, in about nine months.

Then, in two years, the plant will be able to produce 14,000 cylindrical cells a day, Chief Scientist S Mohan, who is in-charge of the Taramani unit, told BusinessLine on Monday. That will correspond to 100 MWhr of storage capacity.

Mohan said there was good demand from the industry. Many small e-vehicle-makers (mainly of e-rickshaws, e-scooters and e-bikes) had evinced interest in buying batteries from CECRI.

He said CECRI could beat Chinese players on prices. While prices are ruling at $220/kW, CECRI can sell for $190.

CECRI is also in the process of getting technical help from Fraunhofer Institute of Germany to improve battery performance and with the manufacturing unit. An MoU is expected in a few months.