As a manifestation of its rapidly developing advanced battery strategy, GM will establish its own lithium-ion battery pack manufacturing facility in the United States—the first such in the US solely operated by an automaker—to produce the 16 kWh Li-ion packs for the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle. GM selected LG Chem over A123Systems (earlier post) to supply the cells. GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner made the announcement at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The announcement reflects GM’s embrace of advanced battery technology as a core strategic competency. As part of that strategic adoption of battery technology, Wagoner also announced that GM will open a new automotive battery lab—the largest of its kind—and a new partnership with the University of Michigan to create a new automotive advanced battery lab in Ann Arbor, Mich., as well as a specialized curriculum within U-M’s College of Engineering to develop automotive battery engineers.
Just over a year ago we began testing two different battery solutions for the Volt. Since then, we have run prototype packs through countless tests, and our confidence in their ability to deliver the required power, range, safety and durability has grown dramatically. In the process we have determined that the design, development, and production of advanced batteries must be a core competency for General Motors. And we’ve been rapidly building our own capability and resources to support this important strategic direction.
...Our announcements are part of a comprehensive advanced battery strategy for GM that is expanding along two primary pathways. First, we’re identifying core competencies—such as battery research, development and manufacturing—and integrating these fundamentals into our product development and manufacturing operations. We believe over time this will become a competitive advantage for us in this important new technology. Secondly, we’re building a roster of battery suppliers and academic experts from around the globe, and leveraging their specialized abilities to develop battery chemistries and cell designs.—Rick Wagoner
The plant. The plant will initially use prismatic cells from LG Chem and manufacture modules and packs for the Volt. The plant will be located in Michigan, subject to negotiations with state and local government authorities. Preparation of the estimated $30-million facility will begin in early 2009, with production tooling to be installed mid-year and output starting in 2010. Michigan is providing a package of up to $517.5 million in tax credits designed to encourage the manufacture of plug-in traction batteries in the state. (Earlier post.)
Compact Power Inc., the North American subsidiary of LG Chem, will build packs for the Volt development vehicles (there are now some three dozen Volt mules on the road) until GM’s battery facility is operational. A joint engineering contract with Compact Power and LG Chem also has been signed to further expedite the development of the Volt’s lithium-ion battery technology.
The plant may also in the future manufacture packs for use in other GM production electric-drive vehicles, said John Lauckner, GM’s VP of Global Product Development. Additionally, the knowledge gained from manufacturing the packs will be applied to requirements given to outsourcing partners, should GM decide not to manufacture packs itself for a certain vehicle line, said Denise Gray, Global Director Energy Storage Systems.
The cells. The LG Chem cells use a proprietary lithium manganese spinel (LiMn2O4) material for the cathode with additives to improve calendar life under high temperature conditions; an amorphous carbon anode; a ceramic coating on the separator (the safety-reinforced separator, SRS) to minimize potential thermal runaway due to an internal short; and a LiPF6 electrolyte in organic solvents (gel type).
The ceramic-coated SRS further enhances the significant abuse tolerance capability already provided by the manganese base in the LG Chem cells, thereby offering dual protection against thermal runaways that can result from abuse conditions such as internal shorts or extreme overcharge.
The laminated packaging is also thermally more efficient and safer than a metal cylinder.
GM thinks that A123Systems offers a “great chemistry”, said Tony Posawatz, Vehicle Line Director Chevrolet Volt. However, he said, it was harder for them, since they were primarily manufacturing cylindrical format cells, to make the transfer to the prismatic format specified by GM.
GM says it will continue to grow and establish a robust lineup of battery suppliers for cell development and manufacturing with companies such as A123Systems and Hitachi Ltd. and battery integration expertise with companies such as Compact Power and Cobasys.
GM’s approach to producing lithium-ion batteries is different than other major automakers, many of whom have entered into joint-venture deals with battery producers. Toyota partners with Panasonic (and now Sanyo) in the PEVE joint venture; Nissan formed a joint venture with NEC (AESC); Honda has just announced a joint-venture with GS Yuasa, which is also in a different joint venture with Mitsubishi (Lithium Energy Japan); and Daimler is forming a joint-venture with Evonik.
That approach can limit an automaker’s options with new cells and chemistries, said Denise Gray. GM wants to be able to take advantage of new possibilities on the cell side, while continuing to optimize its manufacturing techniques, much in the way that engine and powertrain optimization and manufacturing has progressed over the years.
The new GM battery lab. The lab, which will open later this year, will be the largest automotive battery lab in the United States (31,000 square feet / 3,251 square meters) and will be capable of testing new energy storage system technologies, as well as lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride batteries, to accelerate the domestic development of advanced battery technology. It will lead GM’s network of existing labs in Honeoye Falls, N.Y.; Warren, Mich.; Torrance, Calif.; and Mainz-Kastel, Germany.
GM will continue ramping-up in-house battery-development capability by increasing the staff of GM’s global hybrid, electric vehicle and advanced battery organization to several hundred engineers in 2009, including more than 200 currently dedicated to advanced battery technologies.
The University of Michigan partnership. A five-year, $5-million award establishes the GM/U-M Advanced Battery Coalition for Drivetrains (ABCD), headquartered at U-M. Three U-M engineering professors are involved, as is a faculty member at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
|“We need to flip the car parc.”|
—Dr. Ann Marie Sastry, U-M
The mission of the ABCD is to accelerate the development of advanced batteries via experimentation and simulation to better understand and resolve issues related battery life and performance.
Our shared ambition is to see electrified drive trains in a large number of vehicle types and applications. That means we need to reduce the design cycle in both time and cost. Working with GM allows us to make an impact on large-scale production electric drive vehicles, and develop regularized, simulations- and knowledge-based methodologies for using batteries in drivetrains.—Dr. Ann Marie Sastry, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Mechanical, Biomedical and Materials Science and Engineering at U-M, and U-M’s co-director of the ABCD
To “flip the car parc”—i.e., to replace combustion engines and mechanical drive with electrical drive on a large scale, suggested Dr. Sastry, “we need strides in vehicle integration.”
Dr. Sastry also heads Sakti3, a U-M spinoff focused on next-generation lithium-ion battery technologies and processes. Sakti3 intends to develop and commercialize an advanced manufacturing method for high-power batteries primarily for placement in electric vehicles. The premise of this new manufacturing process is to produce batteries capable of withstanding the rigors of automotive usage. Sakti3 is part of Khosla Ventures’ battery portfolio. (Earlier post.)
The ABCD is the latest in a series of collaborative efforts between the University and GM. The auto manufacturer works closely with the College of Engineering in the Energy Systems Engineering master’s degree program, now in its second year. This program, which Sastry directs, aims to create the workforce necessary for a smooth transition to a time when automobiles and the electric grid interface on a regular basis.
Batteries are the most important part of the electric drivetrain, Sastry said, but they haven't been exhaustively studied in the automotive world because of their limited role in gas-powered vehicles. This grant will allow Sastry and her colleagues to optimize batteries and predict how the batteries will behave over time.
As part of the Energy Systems Engineering program, students intern at GM. Last summer, several worked on Volt research. This semester, 50 GM engineers are enrolled as well, for a total of 75 students in the program.
Other collaborators in the new coalition are Wei Shyy, chair of the U-M Department of Aerospace Engineering and the Clarence L “Kelly” Johnson Collegiate Professor of Aerospace Engineering; Wei Lu, associate professor in the U-M Department of Mechanical Engineering; and Gregory Plett, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Other GM electric drive and infrastructure partnerships. GM also collaborates with government organizations and industry consortia, such as the US Department of Energy; United States Council for Automotive Research; the United States Advanced Battery Consortium LLC; and Electric Power Research Institute to advance the development of hybrids, plug-ins and electric vehicles, and related electric infrastructure to support those vehicles.