More Details On Explosion at GM Tech Center: Gases From Experimental Battery Ignited

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
more details on explosion at gm tech center gases from experimental battery ignited

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.

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  • Chocolatedeath Chocolatedeath on Apr 12, 2012

    This sounds like it might be a next gen VOLT battery. Battery tech has not advance that much in the last five years and they only seem to advance every ten or so. I can see the next VOLT being in place in five years.

    • Luke42 Luke42 on Apr 13, 2012

      Could be but, as someone involved in R&D, I can say that the actual next gen Volt battery will incorporate lessons learned from this explosion. If no, why test it in the first place?

  • OldandSlow OldandSlow on Apr 12, 2012

    So, these puppies might be going into a car called the Spark. A bit off topic - In rare circumstances, fast charging a traditional lead acid battery has resulted in an explosion, which blows the top right off the battery.

  • Racingmaniac Racingmaniac on Apr 12, 2012

    There really should be more news coverage on R&D lab testing stuff....dampers getting tested until smoke comes out triggering smoke alarm, or brake system tested until they caught fire...stuff like that.... So people will be so afraid of cars that burst into flame, and causes(to coin a favorite Jalop phrase), fiery death, that they'll start using bike and public transit more....

    • See 1 previous
    • Redmondjp Redmondjp on Apr 12, 2012

      @pgcooldad I've been involved in R&D as well as failure analysis at a number of companies, and it's always a fun day when you get paid to test things until they catch on, um, I mean heat up until they, er, OK, experience a "thermal event." One thing you quickly learn as a manufacturer is to NEVER use the 'f' word (fire). Seriously. In the case of this battery test lab explosion, it sounds to me like somebody messed up in designing the test setup. If they knew that the batteries could produce flammable/exposive gases as a result of this extreme battery testing, they should have created a special test area (using equipment rated for explosive atmospheres) safely away from other equipment and people and taken other precautions such as using an inert cover gas (such as nitrogen) to keep oxygen out of the picture. Remember the fire triangle and try to remove as many elements from it as possible. Do they even teach that anymore?

  • Daveainchina Daveainchina on Apr 13, 2012

    I'm just glad they are testing it here under circumstances which are highly unlikely in the real world. So that when they get in the real world, things like this have a very small chance of happening.