GM touts advances in its EV battery technology with latest Ultium platform details
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Aug 26, 2021
James Paul

From flexible pack formats, to cells designed for recycling, to a wireless battery management system designed with help of Canadian talent, GM signals innovation ahead of Cadillac LYRIQ EV launch

An image from Cadillac’s all electric future video featuring Ultium Batteries

From flexible pack formats, to cells designed for recycling, to a wireless battery management system designed with help of Canadian talent, GM signals innovation ahead of the Cadillac LYRIQ EV presale launch

General Motors says it is electric-future ready with the recent announcement that it intends to power all of its coming electric vehicles with its proprietary and flexible Ultium battery technology.

GM — which just announced a full recall of all Bolt EVs due to flaws in its older battery design — says Ultium is designed to give its customers greater reliability and more options for sizing and range as the company transitions to an all-electric future.

Ultium, first unveiled last year, is a substantiative battery electric announcement from the legacy vehicle manufacturer. It’s also a technology development with strong Canadian ties through the company’s Oshawa, Ont., plant, which contributed to the development and design of the battery platform.

GM's Andy Oury
Andrew Oury, Engineering Technical Leader – Battery Packs for General Motors

Andrew Oury, GM’s lead engineer for high-voltage battery packs, says in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada, “We’re really proud of the architecture of the Ultium. With tight coupling between the body and the battery and reinforcements for both, we have maximized the space available.”

GM says that one of the most attractive consumer features is that customers will be able to choose the size of battery pack they want for their vehicle from a set of configuration options. The company believes this flexibility will allow GM to capture a larger swath of the consumer and fleet market — everyone from urban car services to weekend warriors to long-haul commuters can be accommodated.

It’s about choice

According to GM’s introductory press release, what distinguishes Ultium in the field of batteries is that its “large-format, pouch-style cells can be stacked vertically or horizontally inside the battery pack.”

Says Oury: “We took a look at the breadth of the portfolio that we wanted to build, which included larger vehicles. Then we looked within each vehicle and determined the best customizable options so that consumers could choose exactly what they wanted.

“We then worked back and forth with some modelling to sort out how the options would pan out while maximizing volume to allow flexibility and creating optimum combinations.”

GM felt that it was the right decision to offer flexible plans to the customer, and by using six to 24 modules, it can deploy a large and distinct portfolio. However, “we are not deploying the full suite of flexibility right now,” says Oury, “…as we have to react to the market. It will tell us what it wants when consumers go to purchase an EV.”

With energy options of 50 to 200 kWh, GM estimates its EVs could reach a range of more than 644 kilometres on a full charge and acceleration of 0 to 100 km/h in three seconds. The Ultium battery is designed to accommodate charging speeds of up to 350 kW.

CTC Oshawa’s role

To meet its new EV commitments, GM is building two Ultium Cells factories, in partnership with LG Energy Solution, in Lordstown, Ohio, and Springhill, Tenn. The Lordstown plant is to open in 2022. At this point, it doesn’t appear that GM is planning to manufacture battery cells in Canada despite the strong Canadian contribution to its Ultium technology.

The Ultium platform is a nearly wireless battery management system (wBMS), meaning that in addition to having 90 per cent fewer wires than other vehicle battery packs, the units are more easily recycled and are 25 per cent lighter and smaller overall, which means more batteries are able to be incorporated per vehicle. The absence of high cost, high voltage cables also means the overall cost and weight of the vehicle is reduced.

“Our Canadian engineers at the Canadian Technical Center [CTC Oshawa] worked on wBMS included the development of the simulation technique that allows engineers to virtually test how well the wireless antennas in an EV’s battery pack can ‘talk’ to each other – before the first parts are ever built,” reads company press materials.

GM’s Oshawa headquarters has been influential in assisting the development of on-board diagnostics, the propulsion system, and was part of the collaboration on EV thermal management (which is ongoing). CTC Oshawa has also been involved with charging infrastructure and the software control integration work.

Before the Ultium, Oshawa was integral in developing thermal engineering for the Silverado eAssist hybrid.

The 2024 GMC HUMMER EV SUV will be powered by Ultium batteries

Batteries designed for recycling

At the Ultium launch GM gave greater insight into its plans to build end-of-life solutions into its battery packs, which the company says in an integral part of the electrification strategy.

In addition to the Ultium’s wireless design of the packs being more recycle-friendly, GM is also including a link to a website printed on each pack with recycling instructions. GM’s Senior Manager of Battery Lifecycle and Charging Infrastructure, Pablo Valencia Jr., confirmed the company’s previous announcement that GM’s battery waste and end-of-life batteries will be recycled by Mississauga’s Li-Cycle Corp.

“This is done through a hydrometallurgical process, not a pyrometallurgical process, which results in a lower carbon footprint,” says Valencia Jr., in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.

GM's Pablo Valencia Jr.: Senior manager, Battery Lifecyle and Charging Infrastructure
Pablo Valencia Jr., GM’s Senior Manager of Battery Lifecyle and Charging Infrastructure

Having as clean a battery life cycle as possible is integral to GM’s overall plan for electrification. The company has established a zero-waste initiative with the goal of 100 per cent of manufacturing waste being either recycled or reused, avoiding landfill dumping.

“We are a manufacturing operation. We understand having a zero-waste initiative is very important,” said Valencia Jr., in a pre-recorded video message as part of GM’s announcement.

Another goal is to be able to incorporate recycled material from its own returned batteries into the manufacturing flow. “General Motors would like to use them [returned battery materials] in their batteries. Right now, we are using all virgin materials but as we get the recycled materials coming back, we will evaluate those for use back into General Motors batteries,” says Valencia Jr.

Electric future

The first fully electric GM vehicle with the Ultium battery will be the Cadillac Lyriq. It will be available for presale in Canada on September 18, with delivery expected for the fall of 2022.

The automaker also expects to launch 30 new EVs around the world by 2025.

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