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.
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. :-)
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.
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.
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.
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).
@Jerry: What possible reason would GM have for suppressing battery developement? None. What reason do they have to build this huge lab? Easy, they are doing it with our tax dollar. Everything is a conspiracy against EV's. Companies have built EV's for decades and they have never progressed much beyond golf carts and warehouse lift trucks. Oh if only it wasn't for the mythological conspiracy. True they have billions invested in ICEs, but look at the tangible results. Gas mileage is up. Maintenance is down. Total vehicle life is up. Safety is up, while EV's continue to be an outrageously priced niche vehicle.
It is all a conspiracy. Just like the carburetor that tripled gas mileage before Standard Oil bought the patent just to keep it off the market. Now there is no Standard Oil and carburetors are only on lawn mowers, but the conspiracy lives on.
As Naperlou said earlier, perhaps automakers realize that EV's will only ever be a second car and they need to proceed towards that as an end goal. I just wish they would do it on their own nickle instead of digging in the government's tax pool all of the time. Better GM should pay back their government loans and try to make their stock worth more than scrap paper before they build a multimillion dollar test facility for batteries. 2025 is a little more than a decade away and ever since I became interested in cars in the early 60's, developement of a viable electric car has been only a decade away. It must be conspiracy.
I didn't mention surpressing battery development but since you brought it up they did just that selling the NiMH patents to Chevron which forced companies to stop making EV size ones quailfies for that.
But as I've said, they have never been able to build an EV battery as they screwed up both Lead and NiMH ones vs other makers worked well. I think they realize EV's are coming and just slow walking them in as forced to by CAFE standards .
You do realize in 1911 they had 100 mile range EV's don't you?
As for what reason they would and been caught many times surpressing EV's is EV's are so simple, their main profit center is selling parts at 2,000% profits as has been proven but EV's need few and don't wear out cutting this cash cow 50% of more.
Next they don't like composites as competitors can get into the auto business for far less than in steel. Plus compoite cars don't rust away, thus not needing replacements as often. Also why few Alum cars are out there.
You can say what you want but obvious EV solutions to any 'problems' are already here to make unlimited range reasonable cost EV's with tiny unlimited range generator for $12k but they refuse, No?
It's the car we need so much yet they won't make them, Why?
I use these every day under 1,000lb EV's pickup that tows a trailer for lumber, etc I might need. It costs 25% to run including everything compared to a used gas version. Soon others will figure this out and big auto is going to have some serious competition on their hands.
Chuck, I agree it makes sense for GM to leave battery development to suppliers. This may be especially wise given the cold shoulder Toyota has given to the notion of EVs. I'm still half expecting that breaktroughs in ICE efficiency could leave EVs and hybrids in the dust.
Quicksand, eh Chuck. Everyone is waiting for a breakthrough that will allow auto batteries to be safe and long lasting. Seems like battery technology does not have its own Moore's Law. Maybe the breaktrhough won't come.
Tesla Motors’ $35,000, 200-mile electric car may not revolutionize the auto industry by itself, but it could serve as a starting point for a long, steady climb to a day when half of the world’s vehicles will be plug-ins.
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