Fire and emergency services authorities were called to GM’s Alternative Energy Center in Warren, Michigan, on Wednesday morning following the explosion, which the manufacturer says was the result of “extreme testing on a prototype battery”.
The building was evacuated and all employees have been accounted for. The Detroit News reports the hospitalised worker is “seriously injured”, suffering chemical burns and possible concussion, although is expected to make a full recovery.
GM says the incident is under investigation and the cause cannot be confirmed at this time. The Detroit News claims gases were released from an experimental lithium-ion battery pack and ignited in a research lab, causing the explosion. The battery itself was reportedly left intact from the blast.
The battery in question was reportedly built by A123 Systems, the Massachusetts-based manufacturer contracted to supply lithium-ion batteries for the Chevrolet Spark EV that goes on sale next year. A123 made headlines last month as the batteries it built for the Fisker Karma were recalled to repair a manufacturing defect.
GM’s lithium-ion battery safety came under question last year when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US launched an investigation into the Chevrolet Volt after a vehicle it crash-tested in May developed a coolant leak and caught fire three weeks later.
In January, GM announced a number of structural enhancements and other upgrades to improve the integrity of the Volt’s battery in the days and weeks after a serious crash.