GM Selects LG Chem to Build Volt Batteries

DN Staff

January 13, 2009

2 Min Read
GM Selects LG Chem to Build Volt Batteries

Amidst the fanfare of a standing-room-only press conferencein Detroittoday, General Motors rolled out the T-shapedlithium-ion battery pack for the Chevy Volt and announced its cells willbe built by Korean battery manufacturer LGChem.

The pressconference capped off a two-year wait in which the giant automaker auditionedtwo manufacturing teams for the role of battery supplier for thehighly anticipated Chevy Volt,widely considered to be the biggest vehicle program in GM's history.

General Motors' embattled chairman,Rick Wagoner, told amedia audience the decision to go with LG Chem instead ofMassachusetts-based A123 Systems"was based on performance, production readiness, efficiency, durability and LGChem's demonstrated track record of exceptional quality."

Thecompetition for the GM battery development and manufacturing contract has beenhighly scrutinized in technical circles because one team (LG Chem and Compact Power, Inc.) is using amanganese-spinel chemistry for the battery's positive electrode, while the other(A123 and Continental Automotive) employs a nano-phosphate material. Manyexperts said the choice of the chemistry would be critical so that thebattery wouldn't be plagued by so-called "thermal runaway," which hadreportedly been a problem for some lithium-ion batteries used in laptops andcell phones.

GM,however, said safety was only one of many reasons for the choice of LGChem's manganese-spinel. "Safety was definitely an important part, butultimately it was no more of a factor than durability, cost, performance ormanufacturability," GM spokesman Rob Peterson told Design News.

The planannounced yesterday calls for GM to use battery cells from LG Chem's plant in Korea, then build the entire battery assembly ina GM plant located in southeast Michigan.The assembly includes such items as electronic controls, heating, cooling andcabling. GM said Compact Power would initially do the integration andassembly for Volt prototypes, but added GM would take over the assemblyprocess once its own plant is up and running.

"We'llstart preparing the factory in early 2009 and we will start loading the(manufacturing) equipment into the factory at mid-year of 2009," Peterson said.

Engineersat Compact Power cited two technical advantages inherent in their team'sbattery design. The manganese-spinel chemistry combines with battery separatortechnology that enhances safety, they said. Known as a Proprietary SafetyReinforced Separator, the semi-permeable membrane is coated with a ceramicmaterial, which is said to make it mechanically and thermally superior to otherseparators.

Also key tothe company's technology was its use of a "stack-and-fold" configuration in alaminated package, which could provide GM with easier manufacturability. Thestack-and-fold concept is used as an alternative to the well-known cylindricaldesign of conventional batteries.

"Stack-and-foldis easier for a large electrode manufacturer," said Mohamed Alamgir, directorof research for Compact Power, Inc. "Winding them around a mandrel would be notrivial task."

GMrepresentatives said yesterday its decision to go with LG Chem is part of astrategy that has been unfolding for months. "We're really confident that wehave the right plan and the right balance of technology suppliers," Petersonsaid. "Right now, we don't see any hurdles in our way for having the batteryready by 2010."

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