General Motors is building a new 300,000-square-foot battery research facility in Michigan to help it realize its mission of building electric vehicle batteries that are longer-lasting, quicker to charge, and more sustainable for the environment. Through this new center, GM is setting the stage for a battery breakthrough that will help it build electric vehicles that can travel as much as 600 miles on a single charge — roughly twice the range of most EVs on the road today.
The new facility will be named the Wallace Battery Innovation Center after Bill Wallace, a battery engineer at GM who died in 2018. The center will be located in Warren, Michigan, near the campus of the automaker’s 710-acre Technical Center in Southeast Michigan. GM wouldn’t disclose the number of engineers that will eventually fill the center’s labs, nor would it say much money it would cost to build, but expects it to be in the “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
“large format prototype cells, up to a meter wide or even wider”
The innovation center will be “one of the only ones in North America that can use large format prototype cells, up to a meter wide or even wider than that, with uniform stacked electrodes,” said Ken Morris, vice president for electric and autonomous vehicles at GM.
The goal is to produce batteries with an energy density of “up to 1,200 watt-hours per liter,” Morris said — a staggering number that some experts have questioned. “And that means that you can easily have a 500- or a 600-mile vehicle on a single charge that’s possible, creating a new reality for our customers.”
That would be beyond the range advertised for its Ultium battery architecture, which the company has said would allow for driving ranges of “400 miles or more.” When they were first announced, GM said that it would design its Ultium batteries to be large-format, pouch-style cells, compared to cylindrical cells that are used by Tesla and others. This enables them to be stacked vertically or horizontally inside the battery pack, as the automaker sees fit.
“With these high-energy-density, low-cost vehicles, we really think we can have a better package that’s less mass, better for the vehicle, better for the customer, and it can be the reality as quickly as we can through the Wallace Innovation Center,” Morris added.
The first generation of Ultium batteries will make their debut in the Hummer EV pickup truck, which is scheduled to go into production next year. The Wallace Center is being set up to develop future versions that will be completely different from the current lithium-ion composition.
“The Wallace Center is going to be a colocation of development engineers, research engineers, and manufacturing engineers, where we’re going to accelerate this next generation,” Morris said. “Technology like lithium metal or pure silicon anodes, even solid-state batteries.”
The innovation center is not a battery manufacturing facility — GM is building two of those with partner LG Chem — but it will be set up for pilot assembly lines so the automaker can experiment with different production methods. Other projects will include intellectual property that’s being developed under a joint venture between GM and SolidEnergy Systems, a spinoff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that is focused on improving the energy density in lithium-ion batteries.
GM grew to be the largest automaker in North America on the back of combustion engines. Now, it needs to ramp up production of electric vehicles in order to become a carbon neutral company by the year 2040 and meet its goal to halt sales of light-duty diesel and gasoline vehicles by 2035. Having a ready supply of batteries is, therefore, a fundamental concern for GM’s future. The company had already vowed to spend $27 billion on the development and production of 30 new electric vehicles by 2025 and even redesigned its logo to look more like an electrical plug.