Reinvention: Tour of GM’s New Electric Vehicle Battery Testing Facility [+pictures]

GM Battery Lab Press Conference

Editor’s Note: This is a 4-part series covering my trip to Michigan to test-drive the Chevy Volt. See post 1. LiveBlogging from the opening of GM’s New Battery Lab, and 2. Chevy Volt Test Drive: How GM’s Electric Car WorksDisclaimer: GM flew me out for this event. This post is in no way affiliated with the GM ads that appear at the margins.

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The real reason we were in Warren, MI wasn’t to test-drive the Volt, but to be on hand for the grand opening of GM’s new battery testing facility. The $25 million Global Battery Systems lab is now the largest battery testing facility in the United States, and is four times larger than the company’s old lab.

GM made a strategic decision to keep battery development in-house, because it will likely be a key competitive advantage in the race to commercialize electric vehicles. The lab already employs 1,000 engineers who work on advanced battery systems like the one found the the Chevy Volt.

It was a full house on June 8th, with a large portion of the GM executive team on hand along with numerous state politicians, including new GM CEO Fritz Henderson and the Governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm (audio quality = C-).

  • Press Conference Intro:     [audio:http://gas2.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/volt-press-conference-intro.mp3]
  • Governor Granholm:            [audio:http://gas2.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/jennifer-granholm-mp3.mp3]

“The new global GM battery lab will benefit consumers across America by helping us advance the development of battery technology in the United States and put cleaner, more efficient vehicles on the road more quickly and affordably. Our new lab improves GM’s competitiveness by speeding the development of our hybrid, plug-in and extended-range electric vehicles.” -CEO Fritz Henderson

What GM is Doing in the New Battery Lab

The most important thing to understand about the facility is that GM is testing individual battery cells sourced from outside suppliers, and using those cells to build their own proprietary battery packs.

The Chevy Volt “battery pack”, as described in my last post, is made up of 200 individual Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery cells. GM is buying the battery cells in bulk from battery manufacturer LG Chem and putting it all together in-house.

Volt Battery Pack and Lithium-ion Cell

-Volt T-shaped Battery Pack and Individual Lithium-ion Cell (in speaker’s hand).

Before settling on LG Chem, GM says it evaluated 155 types of batteries from 115 different suppliers. Basically, they sampled products from everyone in town, and then hit about 60 of those samples with stress and functionality tests to determine which had the best thermochemical and energy storage properties. GM claims that the LG Chem Lithium-ion battery cells that will be used in the Volt have the highest energy-density available.

GM Electric Car Batteries

-Old battery packs from the EV1 on display (bottom), along with Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries (top) and new Volt Li-ion cell (middle). GM says the new Li-ion cells have twice the capacity of older NiMH batteries.

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Clayton

In a past life, Clayton was a professional blogger and editor of Gas 2.0, Important Media’s blog covering the future of sustainable transportation. He was also the Managing Editor for GO Media, the predecessor to Important Media.