Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

GM: Explosion at Battery Research Facility 'Unrelated to the Chevrolet Volt'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

GM: Explosion at Battery Research Facility 'Unrelated to the Chevrolet Volt'

Article excerpt

One person was hurt at the GM research site in Michigan during 'extreme testing on a prototype battery' unrelated to the Volt 'or any other production vehicle,' the company said.

An explosion during "extreme battery testing" Wednesday morning of a prototype energy cell at a General Motors battery research facility in Warren, Mich., injured one person and did major structural damage to the building.

At the heart of the explosion was a lithium-ion battery, according to a fire department official cited in local news reports. The morning blast did not, however, involve batteries that power the Chevrolet Volt, the new plug-in hybrid car whose batteries caught fire weeks after a crash test, General Motors said in a statement.

But the flap over the Volt battery fire has left some insiders feeling more than a little peeved and defensive at the amount of news media attention being devoted to what they say is an almost inevitable, if not routine, event in the business of battery research and extreme testing.

"The whole reason they have these labs is precisely to do this kind of aggressive testing - anticipating the worst thing a consumer could do with this product," says one expert with direct knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the explosion, who asked not to be named. "This is going to turn out to be a mountain out of a mole hill. Yeah, we're doing a lot of testing. That's what we have to do. Sometimes things explode."

"The incident is still under investigation by GM and the Warren authorities," the GM statement said. "Any information or discussion of the nature of the work in the lab or cause of the incident is entirely speculative and cannot be confirmed at this time. The incident was unrelated to the Chevrolet Volt or any other production vehicle. The incident was related to extreme testing on a prototype battery."

Despite criticism of the Volt by conservative pundits, a follow- up investigation by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration concluded the new car was no more prone to fire than any other vehicle.

"The debate over batteries recently really hasn't been about safety so much as about their longevity," says Tom Turrentine, director of the plug-in hybrid and electric vehicle research center at the University of California, Davis. "I think we are mostly over the hump with battery safety. But there's no question that battery labs are notorious for explosions when they're testing."

Lithium-ion batteries are attractive to automakers because they can hold so much power - about four times the amount of energy a conventional lead-acid battery. Even so, earlier lithium-ion batteries used in other commercial applications burst into flame on occasion. Laptop computer manufacturer Dell Computer recalled millions of batteries after a handful of its laptops burst into flames several years ago. …

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