Bharat Electronics (BEL), a public sector aerospace and defence electronics company, is planning a foray into the semiconductor manufacturing business in consortium with other companies. BEL is looking at putting up a fab (semiconductor chip) factory along with Hindustan Aeronautical (HAL), Dinesh Kumar Batra, chairman and managing director, Bharat Electronics, said.
“At the moment we are looking at very big investment plans. These are under scrutiny and approvals of our ministry,” he added. The fab project would likely mean investment worth Rs 25,000-30,000 crore.
“BEL would be chipping in with around Rs 3,000 crore, but these are premature estimates…” he said. The remaining comes from partners and the rest from the central and state government subsidy/incentives, he indicated. “We are open for any capex. We are a zero-debt company with cash reserves and
we can do the leveraging to any extent,” Batra said.The company was also getting into indigenously manufacturing lithium ion cells, battery management systems, and end-to-end solar cell and panel manufacturing. Batra was in Pune to inaugurate the battery automated assembly plant at the BEL unit, which would be making the battery packs. They have tied up with automotive OEMs in Pune to supply the battery packs. An R&D plant has come up in Pune with a 5 MW capacity. Once they are comfortable manufacturing lithium cells, big investments would be made in this business, Batra said. BEL would be making Li-Ion LFP (Lithium Iron Phosphate – LiFePO4) chemistry with long cycle life for EV applications. BEL has collaborated with NSTL (DRDO) for the Li-Ion cell technology. BEL has established a pilot plant for Li-Ion prismatic cell development and manufacturing. On the rationale behind BEL’s diversification, Batra said, though they are a monopolistic supplier of defence electronics with 80% of the turnover last year coming from defence manufacturing, this market was opening up.
“With 100% FDI allowed and automatic approvals, many companies are entering this space, and in times to come, there would be no special treatment to government-owned firms and the pie would have to be shared by many others,” Batra pointed out.