In March, Lauren McDonald was on hand for GM’s EV Day, during which much of the discussion was about the new Ultium batteries GM and LG Chem will be manufacturing at a new battery factory just down the road from the former Lordstown, Ohio assembly plant. That factory is projected to have an annual capacity of 30 gigawatt-hours of battery cells. While GM made a bunch of grandiose claims about its campaign to bring electric cars to market that day, few actual details about the Ultium battery emerged during the presentation.
Since then, every car company on the planet has been hinting that it will soon have batteries that can last for a million miles or more. This week, GM joined the chorus. Tim Grewe, head of GM’s global electrification and battery systems, says the new factory will be manufacturing large format pouch cells that use nickel cobalt manganese aluminum (NCMA) chemistry developed by his company. He says adding aluminum to the mix makes it possible to reduce the amount of cobalt used and contributes to longer battery life.
Grewe adds that GM is already pushing ahead with zero-cobalt and zero-nickel cells and experimenting with electrolyte and zeolite additives that will extend their service life even more. “We do have million-mile battery life, especially in shared mobility usage, in our sights and are getting great results when it comes to that,” he says.
“Separator technology, different current-collector technology, over-lithiated cathodes, dry electrode processing, and anode mixes with oxides are all among the other methods the company is considering to improve fast charging while reducing costs. Lithium metal cell technology is also ongoing with an expectation it will be production ready by 2025. We’ve actually had a very good spring on this technology,” Grewe says of the lithium metal research. “We now see a very viable path with almost twice the energy density of today…that will easily enable 500-600 mile vehicles in the future.”
Pouch cells can be installed either vertically or horizontally in battery packs, giving the company more flexibility in designing future electric cars with higher or lower roof lines. [Are we possibly talking about an electric Corvette here?] Batteries can contain between 6 and 24 pouch cell modules yielding packs of between 50 kWh and 200 kWh. A pouch cell has about the same energy capacity as 20 cylindrical Tesla cells, Grewe says.
Each module will have its own wireless battery management system. “That wireless connection is one of our foundational flexibilities we have,” versus a traditional battery management system, Grewe tells Green Car Reports. He foresees battery cell costs dipping below $100 per kWh and $120 per kWh at the pack level in the near term and expects “true breakthrough innovations” at the R&D stage will happen sooner than anticipated. Such a breakthrough could include cells with a volumetric energy density of 1 kwh per liter, which could lead to cars with up to 600 miles of range. “We have the confidence that we are nowhere near the bottom of the battery cost curve,” he says.
Regular CleanTechnica readers will quibble with the company’s promises and predictions, primarily because GM has over promised and under delivered on its EV products for years. Is it finally on board with the EV revolution? It certainly has access to enough talented engineers to be a credible competitor to Tesla and other EV manufacturers but will it follow through or will it continue dazzling us with claims about electric cars that might be while it pushes as many Silverados and Sierras as possible out the door? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.