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G.M. Opens Its Own Battery Research Laboratory 173

Posted by timothy
from the under-pressure dept.
Al writes "Bankrupt automaker G.M. has taken a significant step towards reinventing itself by opening a battery laboratory in Michigan on a site that once churned out internal combustion engines. The new facility lets G.M. engineers simulate all kinds of conditions to determine how long batteries will last once they're inside its vehicles. Battery packs are charged and discharged while being subjected to high and low temperatures as well as extremes of humidity. Engineers can also simulate different altitudes by placing the packs in barometric chambers. The facility has also been designed so that engineers located in New York and Germany and at the University of Michigan can perform experiments remotely. Despite its financial troubles, G.M. has committed to producing the Volt and is already working on second- and third-generation battery technology at the new lab."
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G.M. Opens Its Own Battery Research Laboratory

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  • Yeah, they're back on the bleeding edge!
    • Now actually take it in a positive direction for once.

      Many companies have these testing facilities for green sources of energy. How about you do something novel for once.

      Make the battery discharging a lot more real world and practicle. Have them discharge to the power grid.

      Have it help the plant at least by powering some lights or machines when you discharge the energy instead of creating waste heat in simple electrically resistive or mechanical resistance dummy loads.

      Rant/
      Show us that you can actually thin

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by spinozaq (409589)

        It doesn't say it in this article, so I can't RTFA you ;) but in others that I've read it's stated that 90% of the energy goes back into the grid. The plant itself is very "green".

  • I never thought... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:05PM (#28284347)

    ...I'd own part of a battery research laboratory!

    • by SEWilco (27983) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:10PM (#28284449) Journal
      So you didn't expect the battery inquisition?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Rufty (37223)
        No, it was a shock.
  • Oh really? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I'd like to make a safe bet that this research lab is going to be used exclusively to butter up Congress with tours for more bailout money.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by dammy (131759)

      We don't call GM Government Motors for nothing! I expect to see large Government matching funds on down payments for Volts to counter the 50% increase we are going to see on the Cap and Trade scam. Guess the Cap and Trade is the secret weapon for the Volt, the national power grid couldn't handle that type of additional load of Volts being plugged in unless the demand for power dropped by equal amount because people can't their power bills.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by SydShamino (547793)

        Guess the Cap and Trade is the secret weapon for the Volt, the national power grid couldn't handle that type of additional load of Volts being plugged in unless the demand for power dropped by equal amount because people can't their power bills.

        Read?
        Pay?
        Eat?
        Fondle?

        The power grid has baseline generation, and then supplemental generation. Increasing off-peak usage might cause some supplemental generators to remain on all night, sure. But with a more balanced day/night load, it would make more sense to bring online more baseline generation, which in general is more energy efficient and cleaner, too.

        And if the grid can handle mid-day August, it can handle charging Volts at night. I'd have no problem requiring houses with car power stations to be Sm

        • by fractoid (1076465)
          Also remember that, with Vehicle to Grid technology (which is something AC Propulsion was pushing 10 years ago), EVs can actually help with load balancing by powering household electrics during peak time and then charging offpeak.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        The power bill for charging the volt will be cheaper then buying gas
        Peple will save money.
        Most people stay withing 40 miles of their home most of the time.

        • Will the cost of the vehicle over its lifespan be comparable to a petrol model?
          In macro economic terms buying an electric/hybrid vehicle that costs more over its lifetime will actually use up more natural resources than its petrol equivalent and is hence not more environmentally friendly.
    • Re:Oh really? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Artifex (18308) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @07:00PM (#28286787) Journal

      I'd like to make a safe bet that this research lab is going to be used exclusively to butter up Congress with tours for more bailout money.

      I suspect that, myself. GM already had at least one battery research facility; Charlie Rose was taken on a tour of it, LAST YEAR.

      http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/9226 [charlierose.com] (Part 1, or maybe it was in Part 2)

  • Back to step 1. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:09PM (#28284425)

    GM was so far ahead of everyone else with the EV1. Sure it was a money loser, but had they kept that line of cars around in limited production they could have worked out all sorts of problems with mass producing electric cars and they would have owned all the patents and know how in the area for 20 years. Instead, they killed the program, dumped all the IP they gained from it and went back to building SUV's and pickup trucks.

    Insane.

    • Re:Back to step 1. (Score:5, Informative)

      by afidel (530433) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:23PM (#28284637)
      They looked at the EV-1 as a solution to a legislative (not economic) problem. Once they got California to back down on the zero emission requirement and bought federal laws that said noone could be more restrictive than California they figured there was little need to keep the program around. Since 51+% of passenger vehicles sold were light trucks and SUV's I would say their reasoning was fairly sound.
      • Re:Back to step 1. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MrLogic17 (233498) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:32PM (#28284757) Journal

        Exactly.

        A question for the conspiracy theory crowd:
        If the was so much demand for an electric car back in the 90's, why did GM, Ford, Honda, and Toyota all end production? If there's money to be made selling 100% electric cars, why didn't someone, somewhere on this very large globe make them - thus making a killing being the only supplier?

        At the very least, why hasn't someone made a fortune refurbing used cars into electric?

        My theory is that it's the same reason my laptop dies after about 60 minutes....

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          You forget to charge it?
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Dr. Evil (3501)

            If his notebook is from the 90's, the battery cost well over $100 and it would be a fluke if it held any charge at all.

            There are plenty of cars from the 90's, many of them worth less than the replacement cost of a battery for his notebook computer.

            If that's too vague, I think what we're trying to say is that battery technology was *REALLY BAD* in the early to mid 90's

        • by AioKits (1235070)

          My theory is that it's the same reason my laptop dies after about 60 minutes....

          Full screen hardcore transgendered nazi eskimo midget porn? ... Just saying, not like I know...

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Read up on the Toyota RAV4EV electric vehicle first sold in the US in 1997. It was based on the RAV4 body and could travel 120 miles per charge.

          The RAV4EV was sold direct to consumers in 2002 in California and cost $33,000 after rebates.

          The car was discontinued when Chevron gained rights to NiMH battery patents and forced Toyota to stop producing them for their cars.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rav4ev

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            source snippet:
            Discontinuance
            Toyota discontinued the RAV4 EV program one day after the passing of new air-quality requirements by CARB. CARB eliminated most of the Zero Emissions Vehicle requirement, substituting a greater number of partial zero-emissions vehicles (PZEVs) to meet the requirement.


            Um, seems to me that the reason it was discontinued was because the law made it no longer necessary for car makers to produce them. They only did produce it in the first place because CA required it of them.
            • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @05:49PM (#28285963)

              from the same wikipedia article:

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rav4ev

              Whether or not Toyota wanted to continue production, it was unlikely to be able to do so, because the EV-95 battery was no longer available. Chevron had inherited control of the worldwide patent rights for the NiMH EV-95 battery when it merged with Texaco, which had purchased them from General Motors. Chevron's unit won a $30,000,000 settlement from Toyota and Panasonic, and the production line for the large NiMH batteries was closed down and dismantled. This case was settled in the ICC International Court of Arbitration, and not publicised due to a gag order placed on all parties involved.[1][2] Only smaller NiMH batteries, incapable of powering an electric vehicle or plugging in, are currently allowed by Chevron-Texaco.

              • I love how the AC gets +5 Informative for regurgitating exactly what I said.

                Yes the battery was discontinued, yes it would have been 'difficult' for Toyota to find another supplier - but certainly not impossible.

                Had the law not changed, they STILL WOULD HAVE HAD TO PRODUCE AN EV of some kind, whether the RAV4EV or something else; either that or not sell cars in CA - something they weren't likely to do.

                The only actual *reason* Toyota stopped making the RAV4EV was because the law changed and they no
            • by geekoid (135745)

              Not enough people where buying them to justify their price point.
              It is really that simple.

              They sell cars. You get enough people buying to be able to move 200K cars(min) through the manufacturing process, then you got a keeper.

              Trying to sell a car no one wants doesn't work.
              The only driver for peple byuing those cars where the emission laws. When those changed people had options and they just weren't choosing electric/Hybrid cars at that time.

              • Exactly right. The only reason they were making these things in the first place is because without them they couldn't sell any vehicles in CA.

                I was simply refuting the OP's claim that they stopped making them because they lost the battery supply.
          • by geekoid (135745)

            Irrelevant. If they were a hot seller, they wouldn't ahve been discontinued. American automakers ahve tried electric cars many times. The market just wasn't there for mas production.
            That was until gas prices hit 4+ per gallon.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Chabo (880571)

          A question for the conspiracy theory crowd:
          If the was so much demand for an electric car back in the 90's

          [starts singing]
          Who keeps back the electric car? Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star? We do! We do!

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          If there's money to be made selling 100% electric cars, why didn't someone, somewhere on this very large globe make them - thus making a killing being the only supplier?

          1) GM didn't actually sell them. They came up with some horrible stupid and mangled "you can only lease this car" scheme.
          2) GM only made the car available in a very small amount of markets and even those people who lived in the market never heard about it.
          3) The patents for the large automotive NiMH batteries that would be used for such cars had it's controlling stake bought out by an oil company. It doesn't take a conspiracy to see that an oil company isn't going to let their business dry up.

          At the very least, why hasn't someone made a fortune refurbing used cars into electric?

          Because no on

        • Its actually quite simple really. Dealerships rely on after sales service for MOST of their revenue. Electric vehicles need very little maintenance when compared to vehicles relying on combustion engines. The real problem here is that it makes the dealerships not economically viable any more. This is why there is a huge push for complicated hybrid vehicles, while electric vehicles have been proving themselves for close to 100 years already.
          • Dealerships still have taken a major hit due to massively increased quality, funds for recall work used to be a major source of revenue . Recall just don't happen much anymore and the issues involved are much smaller.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by MrLogic17 (233498)

            Sure, dealerships make money on maintenance - but the auto makers don't. The manufacturers make their money on the car & the financing division of their companies. (At least that's the way it worked before it got nationalized...)

            I stand by my premise - if an electric car could be mass-marketed, why hasn't it? What hasn't there been a Tesla or Coda popping up every few years since the EV1 died? Someone, somewhere, is going to be greedy enough to want to make money selling them - even if they don't ma

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TClevenger (252206)

        They looked at the EV-1 as a solution to a legislative (not economic) problem. Once they got California to back down on the zero emission requirement and bought federal laws that said noone could be more restrictive than California they figured there was little need to keep the program around. Since 51+% of passenger vehicles sold were light trucks and SUV's I would say their reasoning was fairly sound.

        Actually, that's not quite true.

        The mandate came about because of the EV1. GM showed California that an electric car was feasible, and California decided to start mandating manufacturers to produce them. This caused GM to panic and do everything in their power to shut down the EV1 program.

        Interesting, BTW, that GM is planning their own battery research facility. One of the reasons the EV1 was so expensive was that GM's partially-owned subsidiary parts manufacturers (Delco and Delphi) insisted that th

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SEWilco (27983)
      So instead of losing money on the EV1, they built other money losing cars.
    • by jeff4747 (256583)

      Sure it was a money loser, but had they kept that line of cars around in limited production they could have worked out all sorts of problems with mass producing electric cars

      Um....notsomuch.

      For example, the EV-1 couldn't be driven anywhere that gets cold in the winter. Hence it was only available in Southern California and Arizona. It was not a vehicle that was ready for "prime time". It only came to market due to CA's emissions laws.

  • by PalmKiller (174161) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:15PM (#28284529) Homepage
    China makes lithium batteries that can release large amounts of energy all at once...the fireballs are spectacular.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Chris Burke (6130)

      Awesome! Then all we need to do is devise a system whereby these batteries are loaded into a cylinder, compressed, exploded, and the force of the explosion used to drive the cylinder piston and perform the other stages of the process in the other cylinders. Then we could build a bunch of battery stations where you go to fill up your batter tank with fresh batteries. The earth is saved!

      • by Thing 1 (178996)

        [...] stations where you go to fill up your batter tank [...]

        Mmm, Terminator waffles!

  • by Mr.Zuka (166632) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:15PM (#28284533)

    This lab has been there for some time.
    I saw it on PBS comparing the old EV1 battery to the new Volt pack.
    Apparently it was recorded in 2005.
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1046766/ [imdb.com]

  • Financing? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DriedClexler (814907)

    How can GM afford such an expensive, long-term research facility? Oh, that's right: the money they saved by stiffing workers, pensioners, and their families in bankruptcy.

    • Re:Financing? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by swb (14022) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:19PM (#28284587)

      I'm sorry, but you misspelled "the money they're fleecing from the taxpayers."

      • Re:Financing? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:25PM (#28284659) Journal
        In all honesty, if we end up spending $100 billion and end up with some amazing battery technology as a result, I will consider it worth it. Better than a lot of the other trillions we've been throwing around.
        • Very true... Our last $800 billion only bought us a bunch of dead Arabs.

        • In all honesty, if we end up spending $100 billion and end up with some amazing battery technology as a result, I will consider it worth it. Better than a lot of the other trillions we've been throwing around.

          Yes, IF. On the other hand, maybe GM will produce mediocre batteries, but will use its government subsidy to undercut and crush a great battery-producing startup. Or maybe batteries are a dead end, and fuel cells are the answer, but GM/Congress are not astute enough to figure it out.

          Why are we betting

          • Are you seriously asking me to try to defend government spending? The government that just spent $700 billion directly to bailout banks? The government that nearly has a deficit approaching the size of its GNP? I don't think it's a reasonable task. In fact, you seem to have completely missed my main (unwritten) point, that this at least has a chance of being better than a lot of the other government spending I've seen in the last year.
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by geekoid (135745)

              You do know financial institution are starting to pay that back, right? Do you understand that until they do, they fall under TARP rules; which they hate?

          • by geekoid (135745)

            There is an x-prize for batteries, it's called the market.
            You build a better battery, you will make lots of money.

            You build a space ship to go to space and you make...no money.
            See why one needed an X-Prize and the other doesn't?

            • Point of the X-prize is not in the money given out to the winner. Money is a nice bonus, and a short term incentive but...

              Actual prize is in the credentials and the publicity that the winner would receive.
              Credentials from a body of experts certifying that your invention works and is a solid investment, and the publicity surrounding the prize makes certain that your future investors hear about you.

              Both of those work in any case. Batteries, space, cupcakes...

        • Fine. You pay for it, then.
          • Sadly enough, I am. My part of it, anyway.
            • No, you're paying less than your part, as is everyone else who considers this an appropriate and/or worthwhile endeavor. The remainder is being distributed across those who do not consider a bit of hypothetical battery technology--which they'll naturally still end up paying full price for when and if it ever reaches mass-market--worth what they're being forced to pay right now.

              • Dude, if you voted, you're paying the price for having a republic. If you didn't vote, you've pretty much given up your say in the matter. Sucks for you, but that's the way it goes.
      • Oh, and I would mention, the GP is 100% right (as are you). Not only are they fleecing the taxpayers, the retirees got a really bad deal out of the thing. The UAW has around 50% ownership in GM now........sounds great, right? Maybe now the unions will take some responsibility in making sure the company runs well? Not a chance. They shifted their ownership to the retirement fund. That ship is sinking.
      • by FooAtWFU (699187)
        And their bondholders!
      • by jgtg32a (1173373)
        Its a common type they keys are right next to each other.
      • I have a right wing web site and find that Republican condemnation of the GM bailout is self serving and utterly hypocritical.

        1) Northern manufacturing states are being hammered by the effects of free trade. Red states, primarily agricultural, are utterly protectionist. Farmers have gotten at least 300 billion dollars in bailouts during the course of the Bush administration alone, and perhaps near a trillion dollars in bailouts over the last few years, through direct federal subsidies, and on top of that

    • by JordanL (886154)
      They built this facility early this decade.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Except this was prbably budgeted and paid for 2 years ago.
      The projects take time to get to this stage.

      And what do you want them to do? not look at ways to innovate? lts see where that gets the workers and retirees.

  • Ultracapacitors (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ickleberry (864871) <web@pineapple.vg> on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:22PM (#28284623) Homepage
    Batteries are a dirty, nasty hard to recycle oldschool technology that dies after a few 100 charges, or maybe a few thousand if you're lucky. More research into ultracaps is needed - using better nano-tech to increase the surface area, testing of ultracapacitor-based systems and that sort of thing.
    • Re:Ultracapacitors (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Nautical Insanity (1190003) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @05:09PM (#28285321)

      Umm...what batteries are you referring to that are dirty, nasty, and hard-to-recycle? Lead-acid batteries, sure, I'll grant that. But that's not what is being proposed for electric cars.

      This http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/03/tesla-electric-car-batteries-non-toxic-recycled.php [treehugger.com] is closer to it.

      With regards to life, I recall hearing that the newest generation of lithium batteries last far more cycles than your laptop's battery, though I cannot provide a link at the moment.

      As for ultracapacitors, yes they're neat and could work. But the battery tech we have now is much closer to reality than our current ultracapacitor tech. Should ultracapacitors work out, we'll be grateful we started building the infrastructure to support our battery-powered cars.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Yes, because magic technology that doesn't exist in production will improve ultra capacitors and not batteries~

  • by Ceseuron (944486) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:59PM (#28285183)

    I'm not seeing how this story or any other story about GM and their "Volt" is noteworthy. The Volt is not a marvel of engineering. It's not innovative. It's the same crappy "hybrid" concept that every other auto maker has tried to push. The Volt only goes 40 miles on a charge before rolling over to the gas engine. And at the nearly $40,000 price point, why bother buying it? If you spent a bit more money, you can buy a Tesla Model S [teslamotors.com], priced at about $50,000 (assuming you can get the rebate). The Model S doesn't even have a gasoline engine, goes over 7 times farther than the Volt on a single charge, can go from 0 to 60 in under 6 seconds, and looks a hell of a lot better than the Volt IMO.

    If GM uses this new laboratory to produce cars with no gasoline engine (all electric), I'm on board. But if they use it to push this ridiculous Volt and other similar hybrids onto the market, it'll be just another waste of our taxpayer dollars.

    • I'd LOVE to have a Volt. With a 40 mile range I'd practically NEVER need to buy gas with my driving habits. Maybe after a night of bar hopping I'd hit 40, but my life revolves around a small area of town. And, it still has a gas tank for my rare road trips around the country.
    • by BoberFett (127537)

      The Volt is nothing like current hybrids, and the Tesla is still as much a pipe dream as the Volt right now.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      40 miles on a charge means I would seldom burn fuels.
      I drive less then 30 a day, me wife drive less then 15.

      The occasional trip[ to the coast and camping are the exceptions.

      Look at any base price 35K acr and compar to the base price 50(58) K car and you will see a similar jump in quality.

      Of course, if the idea is to reduce admission, then you really need a 15K car.

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      It's not innovative. It's the same crappy "hybrid" concept that every other auto maker has tried to push.

      No it isn't all that innovative, but it's not the same as other hybrids at all. As far as I know, it's the only in-line hybrid for consumer use that's in the pipe. And that makes a big difference. First, you can make your daily commute on pure electric power. Second, since the only function of the gas engine is to charge the batteries, not provide power to the wheels, this means that it can be small

    • The big difference between a hybrid and the Volt is that a hybrid's gasoline engine is hooked to the drive train, and is the primary means of locomotion. The electric motor is used to enhance the gasoline engine, primarily by using energy captured during braking, to improve efficiency.

      The Volt is a pure electric vehicle. The only means of propulsion is via the electric motor. The gasoline engine is actually an electric generator, that runs at a single, highly-efficient RPM, and only runs when the batter

      • by charlesnw (843045)
        What's your source for 80% or more commutes ~40 miles for their workday? Each way? Total?
    • by caspper69 (548511)
      No, it's not. The Volt has an all-electric drivetrain, 100% of the time. The gas engine is only used to re-charge the batteries. The gas engine does NOT drive the vehicle, ever.
    • I dismissed the Volt initially, too. However, part of why they only get 40 miles on those batteries is because they don't let it discharge below 35%, or charge above 85%. That lengthens the lifetime of the battery pack to 10 years.

      So far, I haven't heard any other EV manufacturer claim that they can get 10 years out of their batteries. I'm in love with the Aptera, but they are only saying 6 years now.

      I would rather buy one $40K hybrid that uses EV for my commute once every 10 years than a $30K pure EV o

  • Government Motors is investing in itself
    I wonder if they are eligible for any tax credits.
  • before the current melt down happens. These things can take a few year to get going.

  • by cc_pirate (82470) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @09:05PM (#28287887)

    And they sold it to Exxon Mobil, who buried it and laughed all the way back to their oilfields.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    When you buy your EV car, you don't OWN the battery, you lease it for a small periodic fee. GM would have to make it so these batteries can easily be removed and new ones replaced. Not unlike a simple docking system. You pull into a participating "gas" station, now eventually could be called a "Battery Replacement" station. A motorist pulls into station, pays a small and reasonable "battery replacement" fee, a new one is popped in, and away they go. The dead battery is then placed on a charg

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