General Motors takes another big step toward an all-electric future in announcing its Wallace Battery Cell Innovation Center now under construction at its Global Technical Center in Warren, MI.
Expected to be completed in mid-2022 at a cost of several hundred million dollars, the new 300,000-sq.-ft. (27,870-sq.-m) facility will employ hundreds of powertrain and software engineers focused on new battery chemistry and pilot production of large-cell battery formats. It is not clear how many of these engineers will be new hires.
Ken Morris, GM’s vice president-Electric and Autonomous Vehicles, says the automaker currently lacks R&D capability for large battery cells up to 3.3 ft. (1 m) wide, and bringing that expertise inhouse will open up broad possibilities on the electrification front.
Every automaker is striving to reduce battery costs as new battery-electric vehicles are coming to market.
Relative to the lithium-ion batteries in its current Chevrolet Bolt BEV, GM is pushing to cut by at least 60% the cost of its second-generation Ultium batteries. The first-generation Ultium battery architecture is soon to launch in the all-electric GMC Hummer pickup truck and SUV and Cadillac Lyriq.
By mid-decade, Morris says he expects GM – and its customers – will see cost benefits resulting from work at the new center. The first prototype battery cells should be produced there by the end of next year.
Tim Grewe, GM director-Global Battery Cell Engineering and Strategy, says manufacturing engineers will be working alongside production engineers and researchers focused on new technologies such as lithium-metal, silicon and solid-state batteries.
GM expects the Wallace Center to develop large-format, prototype lithium-metal automotive-grade batteries beyond the small-scale lithium-metal cells typically used in handheld devices or research applications. These cells would be nearly twice the size of the initial Ultium pouch cells soon to launch.
Current lithium-ion automotive batteries generally carry energy density of up to 600 watt-hours per liter. Grewe says the new facility is targeting vehicle batteries with energy density of 1,200 watt-hours per liter.
“We need a breakthrough in energy density,” Grewe tells journalists. “This is a new reality for our customers” and an important component in reducing the price of BEVs.
Production methods honed at the new tech center will be deployed in Lordstown, OH, and Spring Hill, TN, where LG Energy Solution will be manufacturing Ultium batteries for GM.
Grewe says the Wallace center will not replace the work done at GM’s Global Propulsion Systems testing labs in Pontiac, MI, but will augment it.
The Wallace center also will work in tandem with GM's Research and Development Chemical and Materials' Subsystems Lab in Warren that currently leads the company's battery development, as well as the Estes Battery Systems Lab, where in-house durability is done at the cell, module and pack levels.
The facility is named for Bill Wallace, a GM director who led development of battery systems in the Chevrolet Volt 1, Volt 2, Malibu Hybrid and Bolt BEV. Wallace pioneered GM’s relationship with LG Chem R&D (now LG Energy Solution), culminating in the Ultium Cells LLC battery manufacturing joint venture plants now under construction.
Wallace died of cancer in 2018 and worked at GM until the time of his death.