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Major explosion in GM battery lab injures at least one - UPDATED

This morning around 9am, an explosion in a high security battery lab 2-7 in the Alternative Energy Center of the General Motors Technical Center in Warren Michigan forced an emergency evacuation while sending at least one person to the hospital in a state that some have referred to as “critically” injured”.

While reports right now vary, Warren Fire Commissioner Skip McAdams told the Detroit Free Press that the blast caused life threatening injuries on one female worker who was in the immediate vicinity of the battery that exploded around 9am this morning. The woman was conscious but in a great deal of pain while in transit to St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit. A second worker who was in the general area but further from ground zero from the battery explosion reported sustained less severe injuries and was treated at a local hospital. The identities of the workers and the extent of the injuries have not been disclosed.

General Motors has told sources that only one worker was injured in the blast and that after a speedy evacuation of the building, all other employees were present and accounted for. The automaker also has not formally acknowledged that there was a battery explosion but rather, a fire emergency in a battery lab.

In addition to the injuries to the pair of GM workers, the explosion at the GM Tech Center was stated to have done significant damage to the building – blowing out doors and windows around the facility.

While some sources have been quick to point the finger at the lithium ion batteries that power the Chevy Volt, there have been no indications that the battery that exploded this morning was a Volt battery. The Warren GM Tech Center is one of GM’s leading research and development facilities in the world with a wide variety of different programs underway at any given time. Considering that this explosion took place in a high security lab, there is a good chance that this battery was not something found in current products but rather, something new that was under development.

*Update* - General Motors has confirmed that the battery that exploded was NOT the lithium ion battery from the Chevy Volt or any other production vehicle but rather, an experimental battery that was being subjected to "extreme testing".

General Motors has been rumored to be working on more electric vehicles that do not feature the Chevy Volt’s Voltec drivetrain with a gasoline engine but instead, these new models will rely more heavily on new battery technology. With the constant push for smaller, more powerful batteries that can recharge more quickly – one of the key concerns is the battery system being overworked and failing in an unfortunately fantastic manner. This has been one of the major accusations against the evolution of the electric vehicle; with naysayers constantly questioning the safety of these new ultra high voltage drivetrains. Luckily for everyone except for the two people injured this morning, this explosion occurred on a lab under controlled conditions rather than in a consumer vehicle on the open road. Accidents happen and these are why new technology goes through such rigorous testing to ensure that the new batteries and electrical systems are safe when they reach our driveways.

TorqueNews will continue following this story – bringing you more news as it becomes available.


Anonymous (not verified)    April 11, 2012 - 11:54AM

Good article. I expected more Volt fear mongering. But this turned out to be remarkably grounded. (not an electric joke)

John Goreham    April 11, 2012 - 12:19PM

I would not be surprised if the combustible turns out to be hydrogen. Even simple lead acid batteries can create hydrogen which when not vented can exceed the LEL (lower explosive limit) limit and cause an explosion. The story makes it sound like there may even have been relief walls in the lab, indicating an x-proof environment. Excellent reporting of a sad story. Best wishes to the auto lab worker.