General Motors Research & Development Battery Lab Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan. (Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors)

General Motors is just one of many major automakers that have announced plans to go all-electric or to remove emissions from their vehicle lines in the coming years. As part of its multi-billion-dollar investments in the areas of EV and battery development, autonomous vehicle development, and more, the automaker has announced a partnership with Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR). The company’s Hell’s Kitchen Lithium and Power development is located in the Salton Sea Geothermal Field in Imperial, California, and is expected to yield impressive results, both in lithium extraction and in reducing the negative external effects of mining the material.

The Ultium platform is the foundation of GM’s EV strategy, including the battery cells, modules and pack, plus drive units containing electric motors and integrated power electronics. It underpins GM’s EV architecture and was developed with a common set of components, providing energy for nearly every segment on the road. Certain vehicles built from the platform will offer battery energy storage options from 50 to more than 200 kWh and driving range of up to 450 miles on a full charge[1].
The partnership is expected to yield impressive gains in the efficiency and in lessening the overall environmental impacts of mining lithium for batteries. General Motors says that the direct extraction process will result in a smaller physical footprint and no production tailing, which is the leftover rock and material from mining that has no monetary value. GM expects that a “significant amount” of its future battery-grade lithium hydroxide and carbonate could come from CTR’s location in California.

Lithium is a key ingredient in General Motors’ Ultium battery packs, like this one being tested by GM Validation Engineer Andre Brown at the GM Global Battery Systems Lab Monday, June 28, 2021 on the campus of the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan. (Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors)

This move is part of General Motors’ $35 billion investment in EVs and autonomous vehicles, and makes GM the first company to invest in CTR’s California-based Hell’s Kitchen project. Being a first mover here has its benefits, as it gives GM first rights to any lithium produced during the first stage of extraction at the CTR site.

 

Even with investments and a growing access to lithium, batteries are expected to continue to be the largest driver of costs in electric vehicles. Lithium is a key component of batteries, and its continued availability will become even more of an issue for GM as it explores new battery technologies and rolls out new vehicles.

Ultium pouch cells can be stacked horizontally or vertically in modules. These building blocks of GM’s battery packs can be configured with single stacks of 6, 8, 10 or more modules for cars and crossovers, or they can double-stack as many as 24 modules for the power and capability needs of large trucks and SUVs. The modules are interchangeable for many different configurations.

The first stage of the CTR project is expected to begin producing lithium by 2024, which General Motors says will help it achieve its goal of eliminating tailpipe emissions from its light-duty vehicles by 2035.