General Motors is plowing more money into its electric vehicle (EV) vision by nearly tripling the size of the lab where it tests and validates the batteries for the Chevy Volt, Cadillac ELR, and Spark EV.
The automaker says that the larger lab is also critical to its longer-range electrification plans, which include smaller, lower-cost EVs that could serve one day as second cars for millions of daily commuters.
"The electric car battery needs to be smaller, lighter, and cheaper to reach the vision of a mainstream battery-electric vehicle," Larry Nitz, GM's executive director of hybrid and electric powertrain engineering, told us.
GM is nearly tripling the size of the lab where it tests and validates battery packs for the Chevy Volt. (Source: GM)
The Warren, Mich., lab will have 85,000 square feet of test space, including 112 pack-level channels and 120 cell-level channels. GM, which does not make its own battery cells, will test products from suppliers such as LG Chem, Hitachi, and A123 Systems. Its engineers will work on in-house development of cooling systems for lithium-ion batteries. The Chevy Volt uses one such system, which includes multiple metal plates and liquid coolant that flows between 288 prismatic lithium-ion cells.
"We bring the cells together into modules and test the modules," Nitz said. "Then we bring our cooling systems together with the modules and cycle them. And the final test is to take the completed packs to chambers where they are tested again."
The lab will include facilities for the development of chargers and packs and the testing of prototype cells from battery manufacturers. "We look at cells four, five, or six years ahead of production. The idea is to understand those cells, so we can begin to construct the module and the pack in a way that best uses what the cell has to offer."
GM has declared its commitment to electrification. In 2012, it invested $35 million in a production plant in nearby Hamtramck, Mich., where the Chevy Volt is built. "Despite what the naysayers will tell you, this industry is headed toward electrification," GM president Mark Reuss told us when the investment was announced. However, "it may take a lot longer than we thought until the transformation is truly complete."
Nitz said the larger battery lab will play a role in that transformation. "We haven't gotten the cost and range to the appropriate point for electrics to be mainstream second cars. But that could happen by 2025. And when it does, it could be a huge market."
Cap'n, as you have pointed out, the future of pure EVs is not looking great. The battery technology is not progressing as fast as needed to make this viable. Even some of the EV proponents are admitting that these are second, commuter cars (so, why are we subsudizing $80K Teslas?).
Researching batteries is a very important endeavor. I think that batteries will be a part of the automobile system for the foreseeable future. It is important for companies like GM to test and characterize these systems for themselves. This is too important to leacve to suppliers.
Nice article, Chuck. What I find interesting here is the commitment GM is giving to thew work of others. With the size of this lab, it would initially seem this is for development. But no, it's a testing lab. That's impressive.
Back in about 1990, Nadine, the Big Three formed the United States Advanced Battery Consortium, which has had some positive effect. The Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency also has a program going, which was formed more recently. As you say, though, it's been slow. Battery development is hard. See links below.
You're right, Rob. GM is smart to do it this way. They're letting the battery companies develop the cells and they're developing the cooling packs. Cell development would be a huge economic drain for GM, which already has to committ funds to development of e-assist vehicles, hybrids, plug-ins (like the Volt), and EVs (like the Spark).
Well this is a good step forward in terms of pouring investment money into solving the EV battery problem, but as you point out, Lou (and as we mentioned in comments in another story), this problem is far from being solved. But you're right, it's good that the manufacturers are seeing the need to work on this technology themselves and not leave it up to other researchers to solve.
Based on what I've read, we're running out of Plutonium 238 used in power sources like the Voyager spacecraft. It was a byproduct of weapons grade production and we're not making them like we used to.
I guess we'll have to go with vacuum energy, I remember reading somewhere they are thinking lasers can be used to separate the spontaneous particle and antiparticles apart. Not sure it that would work or fit in a car. :-)
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As it does every year, Consumers Union recently surveyed its members on the reliability of their vehicles. This year, it collected data on approximately 1.1 million cars and trucks, categorizing the members’ likes and dislikes, not only of their vehicles, but of the vehicle sub-systems, as well.
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