General Motors Co. officials say damage could hit $5 million following an explosion last week in a battery-testing lab at its Tech Center in Warren, according to a police report obtained by The Detroit News. The blast injured an employee who remained in the hospital Tuesday.
GM Facility Manager Mo Abraham, and Krishon Davis, who works in GM fire prevention, told Warren police that damage “could reach the $5 million mark.”
A separate Warren Fire Department report from last Wednesday’s explosion estimated $3 million in damage, with property losses at $1 million and contents at $2 million. Warren Fire Commissioner Skip McAdams said Tuesday he estimates the loss is closer to $3 million than $5 million. The figure could change when a full fire investigation report is completed.
GM said last week the explosion was created by gases that vented from an experimental battery pack inside an enclosed room in its battery lab in the Alternative Energy Center building. GM likened the incident to a natural gas explosion, as gases from a battery gathered in the room during extreme testing and ignited.
GM would not comment directly Tuesday on damage estimates cited in the reports.
“Our first priority is the safety of our employees and we continue to investigate the incident,” said GM spokesman Greg Martin. “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.”
GM is self-insured. Abraham and Davis told Warren police that damages beyond $5 million would be covered by XL Capitol Insurance.
The blast sent a 26-year-old GM employee to the hospital with an estimated four-inch gash to the back of his head and “concussion-like symptoms,” according to the police report.
He remained Tuesday at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit, where he was listed in fair condition. Four other people were evaluated by medical personnel after the explosion.
The injured worker, from Macomb Township, could not be reached for comment. His Facebook page says he is an engineer.
McAdams said the employee remains in the hospital and likely will be there at least until the end of the week. He said the fire department hopes to interview him for their investigation.
The explosion happened in what GM officials told Warren police was its “abuse” room. The police report said the explosion “ripped through an adjacent area causing massive damage, blowing open steel doors and blowing out windows.”
GM has said the battery being tested was not for a vehicle in production. A person familiar with the matter previously told The Detroit News that the prototype lithium-ion battery in the lab that was being tested was built by A123 systems.
At least two labs in the building’s eastern wing were damaged, according to McAdams. Smoke traveled through part of the building, a portion of the roof is gone and a cinder block wall was damaged, McAdams said.
The Warren Fire Department continues to investigate the explosion, but a preliminary investigation reports that a gaseous chemical reached an ignition source in the lab, McAdams said. The battery being tested was meant to fail, but there wasn’t supposed to be an ignition source, he said.
“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 — but we’re working toward it,” McAdams said. “We’re getting full cooperation from the GM people.”
GM opened its battery lab in 2009, and in 2010 doubled the size. It tests current and future battery technologies in the lab, which includes 176 test channels and 49 thermal chambers that duplicate extreme real-world driving patterns, hot and cold temperatures and calendar life.