GM Battery Explosion Damage Extensive; Estimated at $5 Million

By Keith Buglewicz | April 18, 2012
The gas explosion that ripped through a General Motors battery laboratory in Warren, Mich., last week may have caused up to $5 million in damage to the facility. The Detroit News cites a police report, in which GM officials say that the severe damage may reach that figure. However, Warren fire officials estimate the damage closer to $3 million, which is still a hefty figure. However, GM is not officially issuing an estimate of damages just yet. "Our first priority is the safety of our employees and we continue to investigate the incident," GM spokesman Greg Martin told the Detroit News. "At this time, we do not have a specific dollar amount on the extent of damage, nor can we comment on the immediate estimates placed in reports filed on the same day of the incident." The explosion was caused by gases that built up in an enclosed test facility. The gases were vented by an experimental battery that was undergoing testing. GM says the explosion is similar to what can happen when there's a natural gas leak at a home, where the gases build up in an enclosed space, and suddenly find an ignition source. The physical damage was extensive, too. According to the police report, the explosion caused "massive damage, blowing open steel doors and blowing out windows." It damaged two labs in the building's eastern wing, damaged a cinder block wall, and part of the roof is also gone. The explosion also injured a 26-year-old GM employee, who was rushed to the hospital with a 4-inch gash to his neck and "concussion-like" symptoms. General Motors is quick to point out that the battery was experimental, and was not for a vehicle currently in production. The Detroit News notes that a person familiar with the incident said that the battery was a prototype lithium-ion type that was built by A123 systems. The battery was being tested to fail, but without an ignition source. Exactly what that ignition source is may remain a mystery. According to Warren Fire Commissioner Skip McAdams, "We're trying to find which ignition source, but the damage to the lab is extensive, so we may never know which piece of equipment with 100 percent certainty." However, McAdams says he his getting full cooperation from GM. Automotive.com's take: Battery technology is still evolving, and quickly. However, setbacks like this are to be expected with any new technology. While it's of course unfortunate that an employee was seriously injured, it's a good bet that this incident will lead to tighter safety precautions in the future. Once the source of the explosion is found, it could also lead to safer batteries for vehicles. Source: The Detroit News
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