Over the past couple of years, Tesla Motors has received a tremendous amount of media attention for the construction of its massive Gigafactory lithium ion (Li-ion) battery production facility in Reno, Nevada. Tesla ultimately plans to produce up to 35 GWh of batteries annually at the facility, but it is still at least a year away from producing its first cell. Meanwhile, near the shore of Lake Michigan, an LG Chem factory is poised to be the first North American facility to produce more than 1 GWh of automotive Li-ion cells, likely before the end of 2016.
Construction of the LG Chem facility on the west side of Michigan began in mid-2010 with a $151 million stimulus grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and $187 million from LG. By the end of 2013, the Holland, Michigan facility had largely put early issues behind it as it began shipping cells to General Motors’ (GM’s) Brownstown, Michigan pack assembly factory. GM selected LG to replace A123 Systems as the battery supplier for the Chevrolet Spark electric vehicle (EV), and by mid-2014, LG’s plant had shipped more than 1 million cells to Brownstown.
The Holland facility is now delivering cells for the recently launched second-generation Volt, Spark, and Cadillac ELR models, and production for the new Cadillac CT6 plug-in hybrid is soon to follow. GM and LG just announced a wide-ranging partnership for the development of numerous systems and components—including the cells—for the new Bolt EV set to go on sale in late 2016. While neither GM nor LG Chem will yet confirm that the cells for the 200-mile range Bolt would be produced at the Holland facility, since the car will be assembled at GM’s Orion plant north of Detroit, the expectation is that the cells will come from Michigan rather than South Korea.
Navigant Research’s Advanced Energy Storage for Automotive Applications report projects an annual Li-ion battery capacity of 11.5 GWh for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in North America in 2017. During a recent tour of the cell production lines in LG Chem’s Holland facility, plant manager Nick Kassanos declined to go into specifics regarding the plant’s total production capacity, except to say that “We are equipped to meet the demand.” The configuration of the plant with highly automated electrode coating, pressing, drying, and assembly equipment is such that additional modules can be added to scale up capacity as needed. The existing building has room for additional growth, and the property has sufficient space for at least two more similarly sized buildings that may be added in the future as demand warrants.
While no absolute capacity figure was provided, Steve Zachar, manager of the formation section of the Holland plant, confirmed that the plant is currently shipping approximately 130,000 cells per week to the Brownstown pack factory. At approximately 96 Wh per cell for the Volt, Spark, and the soon-to-launch CT6, that amounts to nearly 650 MWh per year, a figure that is likely to climb as Volt and CT6 production ramps up. LG Chem recently also announced another undisclosed automotive customer for the Holland plant.
GM has not revealed any specifications of the Bolt EV other than a range of at least 200 miles, which is expected to require at least a 50 kWh battery pack. News media have reported that GM is planning for a production capacity of 30,000 Bolts, which would require at least 1.5 GWh of cells, a figure which, along with other new business, nearly quadruples current production and potentially brings the total annual production of LG Chem’s Holland plant to nearly 3 GWh, or approximately one-quarter of the projected North American capacity by 2017.