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GM says wireless battery system speeds EV development, extends range

DETROIT — General Motors said Wednesday its upcoming electric vehicles will use a wireless battery-management system to help get them to market faster and allow a common set of battery components to power a wide range of EVs.

The battery system, developed with Analog Devices Inc., can be updated over the air to incorporate new technology quickly, improves range by reducing weight and allows used-up batteries to be converted into clean power generators, GM said. It will be standard on all vehicles powered by GM’s proprietary Ultium batteries, including the GMC Hummer pickup that could arrive in 2021 and the Cadillac Lyriq crossover due in 2022.

“Scalability and complexity reduction are a theme with our Ultium batteries — the wireless battery management system is the critical enabler of this amazing flexibility,” Kent Helfrich, GM executive director of global electrification and battery systems, said in a statement. “The wireless system represents the epitome of Ultium’s configurability and should help GM build profitable EVs at scale.”

The wireless management system eliminates the need to develop specific communication systems or redesign wiring configurations for each new vehicle, GM said.

The system can run battery pack health checks in real time and help maintain long-term battery health. It reduces wiring within the batteries by up to 90 percent, GM said, which can extend charging range by making the vehicle lighter and freeing up space for additional batteries.

“The main charging power comes from our onboard charging system, but this helps manage and balance that so that you can actually get the best life and best charging capability with it,” Tim Grewe, director of global battery cell engineering, told Automotive News.

The wireless system will help scale Ultium batteries, jointly developed with LG Chem, across GM’s future lineup.

GM has said it plans to launch 20 EVs globally by 2023 and more later this decade. GM also will use Ultium batteries to co-develop at least two Honda EVs and to build Nikola Corp.’s Badger pickup.

The flexibility created by the wireless system will lead to a more robust manufacturing process and streamlined battery restructuring, GM said.

The system also allows GM to more easily repurpose the batteries when their capacity becomes too low for optimal vehicle performance. At that point, GM said, the batteries can be used to create generators by combining multiple packs without having to overhaul the battery management system, as is the case when repurposing wired batteries.

“It’s a great example of the diverse technical excellence you need to reach these challenges we have in the Ultium system,” said Grewe. “There are many challenges that come along at all levels of the technology development.”

In many cases, bugs can be fixed through the battery system, rather than the device itself, he said. 

“It takes that kind of collaboration to have that insight to make sure it’s robust for our customers and then find the most effective solution,” Grewe said. “We need to the deep technical experts in every area to make that happen.”

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