Troubled battery maker A123 is getting another lifeline. This time, from China. Wanxiang Group will invest as much as $450 million in the company, says Reuters. Wanxiang, one of the largest Chinese auto component makers. A123 will soon be Chinese. (Read More…)
More details have been released about the explosion at a GM Tech Center battery lab yesterday that left one person hospitalized with chemical burns and a possible concussion. In a statement, GM said that while an “experimental battery” was undergoing “extreme testing”, gases were released from the battery cells. Something in the lab then ignited the gases and the subsequent explosion was severe enough to cause structural damage, blowing out windows and forcing open fortified doors. The battery itself was left intact. The Detroit News, according to an unnamed source, reports that prototype lithium-ion battery was made by A123, and that explosion happened during “intensive tests designed to make it fail”. The Warren, Michigan fire commissioner said that the lab was designed with safety in mind so damage was confined to the one laboratory. Though some of the 80 workers in the building were sent home for the day after the explosion, others continued to work. The 63,000 sq ft Global Battery Systems Lab has 176 test cells as well as 49 thermal chambers, where GM tests both production and prototype batteries. A HAZMAT team was dispatched to the facility, as were OSHA and MIOSHA inspectors, because of the injuries.
GM stressed that the incident was not related to the Chevrolet Volt or any other production vehicle. Since the electric version of the Chevy Spark won’t go into production until next year, the battery involved in the explosion might be a developmental version of the batteries A123 will be supplying for that project. It also might be a completely experimental prototype.
In the ramp-up to the launch of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, a great debate seized the engineering community: was Nissan opening itself to problems by not including a active thermal management system for the Leaf’s battery pack, or was Chevrolet’s liquid-cooled approach simply adding unnecessary complexity? Well, thus far, the verdict seems to be in Nissan’s favor. Though Leaf has been troubled by some dissatisfaction with its real-world range, the Volt has endurd the first technical semi-scandal of the plug-in era, when federal regulators found that ruptured coolant lines could cause fires. Now the liquid-cooled approach is hitting its second challenge, as Fisker’s battery supplier A123 Systems is warning in a letter [PDF] that
some of the battery packs we produce for Fisker Automotive could have a potential safety issue relating to the battery cooling system.
TTAC has received the following protocol, developed by GM in the wake of the June Volt fire at a NHTSA facility in Wisconsin, from a GM source and has confirmed its legitimacy with a second GM source. Though the procedure may be refined based on the findings of NHTSA’s latest round of tests, it gives a good picture of what GM currently does to ensure the safety of Volt driver and passengers as well as rescue workers, towing company workers and salvage yards. And, I have to say, it puts some of my fears about this safety scare to rest. It hadn’t occurred to me that GM’s Onstar system could provide opportunities to respond to crashes in real time, and apparently the system provides a wide variety of data with which GM’s “corporate SWAT team” can tailor its response to any Volt crash event. Hit the jump for the full procedure.
GM has safety procedures for handling the Volt and its battery after an accident. Had those been followed, there wouldn’t have been a fire.
At the time, a number of readers accused me of bias for not including Martin’s response at first. Eventually I conceded that this was some worthwhile perspective for the story, but I cautioned that it only represented the opinion of one GM employee. Whether or not NHTSA actually followed those procedures remained an open question… until now. Automotive News [sub] is reporting that NHTSA couldn’t possibly have followed those procedures, nor indeed could anyone else, for the simple reason that GM failed to share them with anybody. So not only is the NHTSA fire being blamed on the fact that government regulators were not given the necessary safety procedures, but it turns out that rescue workers, salvage yards, towing companies and the like were not taught how to discharge the Volt’s battery either. In other words, this NHTSA crash was an important eye-opener for the Volt team.