GM Opens New Battery Research Facility

In January during the 2009 Detroit Auto Show, then GM Chairman Rick Wagoner took center stage with a near-production version of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt and the Volt’s battery array. Well, now Rick is out, but the battery lab he announced opened recently at the company’s Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. The new facility greatly expands GM’s battery research and development capabilities, and will help expedite the introduction of GM’s electrically-driven fleet.

The Global Battery Systems Lab spans 33,000 sq. ft. – four times larger than GM’s previous Tech Center battery lab – and will be used by GM’s growing team of more than 1,000 engineers working on advanced batteries and electrically driven vehicles worldwide. Some of the lab’s high-tech equipment includes 42 thermal chambers duplicating extreme real-world driving patterns plus dozens of “battery treadmills” that cycle battery cells. The lab’s maximum power capacity is 6 megawatts, or enough electricity to provide power to approximately 1,400 homes.

“This facility is state-of-the-art and represents one of the largest and most capable battery test labs in the world,” said Jim Queen, GM group vice president, Global Engineering. “More than half of the lab is dedicated to testing the electrochemical battery cells and their enclosures, known as modules, a capability not available in GM’s previous battery lab. The lab’s remaining floor space is committed to evaluating completed battery packs.”

The Global Battery Systems Lab complements GM’s other battery labs in Mainz-Kastel, Germany, Honeoye Falls, N.Y., and the Warren Technical Center’s Research Chemical Engineering facility. The opening of the Global Battery Systems Lab is the latest move in GM’s battery strategy, that includes ramping up “in-house” responsibility for advanced battery technology and for organizing a broad portfolio of supplier partners, including LG Chem, GM’s partner for the Chevrolet Volt’s lithium ion battery pack.

It’s encouraging that GM was able to open the lab given its current financial condition. Batteries stand to be as important as piston powertrains in the future, and from our vantage point, it seems wise that GM is taking more control of its destiny regarding battery development and manufacturing.

The Chinese automaker BYD-one of the world’s largest battery makers-has a team of 11,000 working in a battery technology research facilities, and 4,000 are dedicated battery research engineers.

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