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Update: GM lab explosion didn’t involve Chevy Volt battery

This past Wednesday morning there was an explosion at General Motors’ Warren Technical Center that was originally blamed in part on the battery system in the Chevrolet Volt but more information has become available – highlighting the facts that this wasn’t a production battery, the battery itself didn’t explode and all of the GM employees involved are safe and sound.

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The first reports this past Wednesday were that around 9am, a battery exploded in the General Motors Warren Technical Center in a high security portion of the Alternative Energy Center. GM did not make a statement right away but with comments made by various Warren officials who were on the scene; a great deal of information hit the media in the hours that followed the blast. We have now learned that there was an explosion but many of those early reports have proven to be incorrect to some extent.

First off, reports indicated early on that there were two workers injured and while one was treated locally, the other received life-threatening injuries and was sent to a Detroit hospital. Now that the smoke has cleared, we have learned that there were actually five GM workers injured in the blast with four of them individuals being treated as the scene while the fifth made a trip to a local hospital. However, none of those injuries were life-threatening.

Next, there was an explosion in the Alternative Energy Center but it was not a battery from the Chevrolet Volt that was involved and technically, there was not battery explosion at all. Leading up to the explosion, engineers in this testing facility were exposing a prototype battery to extreme testing measures. Some new reports indicate that this could be a battery planned for usage in future electric vehicles but right now, the battery involved has no production applications.

Finally, the battery involved in the Wednesday morning explosion didn’t actually explode but rather gases created in the testing chamber ignited and caused the massive explosion. During the extreme testing process, hydrogen sulfide gas collected in the testing area and when that cloud of gas ignited – we had the massive explosion that injured five and did significant damage to the Alternative Energy Center testing area including blowing out windows and at least one 8” thick door. Afterwards, the reports indicate that the battery pack itself was still intact. Various sources indicate that the battery in question was provided by A123 Systems, a battery builder who has been working with General Motors to design batteries for future use in new all-electric vehicles.

Unfortunately, since this was a high security area where the battery exploded and due to the private nature of automotive research and development, we aren’t likely to get much more information on what kind of testing was going on or what this battery might be used for in the future. However, we know that this wasn’t the battery from the Chevrolet Volt or any other General Motors production vehicle, the battery itself didn’t explode and those workers who were involved in the blast did not receive any life threatening injuries.

Should any other information become available, you will find it here on

Source: Automotive News

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John Goreham    April 13, 2012 - 2:35PM

Sounds like it was indeed a lead-acid battery. Sulfuric is the acid in the electrolyte of lead acid batteries and hydgrogen (or sulfides of hydrogen) are off-gassed normally. The problem starts when they are not vented. Rookie error. Weird this can happen in a GM lab. An inexpensive combustible gas sensor could have ben used to shut this process down and vent before the LEL level was reached. Perhaps it was inside a reactor vessel and something failed that was supposed to open.