An explosion has been reported at the General Motors Tech Center, the advanced technology lab for the car company. The explosion was attributed to a lithium-ion battery pack in the battery lab and two people have been reported injured.
New battery fire for GM
Last year, General Motors had to weather a scandal over a battery fire that was observed in a Chevrolet Volt, GM’s plug-in hybrid and major entry into the green vehicle technology field. The Chevy Volt fire was isolated to a single car that had been sitting in storage after National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash testing, and NHTSA testers were hard-pressed to recreate the fire.
However, the incident was turned into fodder for everything from criticism of alternative propulsion systems to bi-partisan bickering among politicians. General Motors is likely to experience deja vu, as a battery explosion has been reported at the General Motors Tech Center, according to AutoGuide, the lab and testing facility where GM’s battery development and testing center is located. Two people were injured and taken to a local hospital.
Battery not related to Volt
The explosion was reported to involve a lithium-ion battery pack and occurred, according to AutoWeek, in the Alternative Energy Center, where lithium-ion batteries are tested and developed. The proximate cause of the explosion isn’t known yet, but what is known is that the battery that exploded, according to Businessweek, was in the midst of “extreme testing.” The battery in question is not related to the Volt; it is only a prototype.
The building, according to AutoBlog, was evacuated immediately and all staff were accounted for.
Nature of the beast
Lithium-ion batteries pose a risk of fire, as does gasoline. The issue, according to CNET, partially lies in the chemical composition of the batteries. Lithium-ion batteries store more energy than other types of batteries and, just like all batteries, they contain volatile liquids that pose a threat of fire if anything goes wrong, such as trauma to the battery causing an electrical short. If an electrical short develops, a “runaway thermal reaction” can occur, which results in heat continually building up in the battery until it catches fire or explodes. That caused the Volt fire last year.
Consumer electronics also have been observed catching fire or exploding, such as in 2006 when Apple and Dell recalled millions of laptops after battery packs were reported to be bursting into flames, according to MSNBC. However, as battery technology improves, so will safety.