An explosion that ripped through General Motors’ alternative energy test chamber in Michigan yesterday (11 April), injured several staff and has forced the temporary closure of the Warren facility.

The most seriously hurt employee was kept overnight in hospital with possible burns and concussion, while two more staff were treated and released with a further two declining medical attention.

Around 80 staff were hurriedly forced to evacuate GM’s energy facility with the remaining injured allowed to leave hospital with “bumping and bruising” caused by rapidly exiting the plant, which was subjecting an experimental battery to extreme testing.

“Chemical gases from the battery cells reached an unknown ignition source, igniting gases and causing an explosion,” fire commissioner Wilburt ‘Skip’ McAdams told just-auto from the City of Warren fire department. “There is structural damage to the building [and] it appears the building worked as a design in that [the] blast was channelled upwards and out as a safety precaution.

“But there is still structural damage that will require structural engineers – work has stopped there. This is the first explosion in a laboratory in my history in the fire service, working in several manufacturing cities with these types of facilities.”

Fire commissioner McAdams said his department was closely involved with the design of the GM facility, particularly when it came to safety systems and that the area of South Michigan where the plant is located is heavily populated with automotive operations.

“Fortunately for us, it all came together,” he said. “We did not plan for an accident, but we had an input if there was an accident.”

GM insists the explosion was not linked to the Chevrolet Volt or any other vehicle.

Last November, GM suffered two vehicle fires after batteries were punctured in crash tests.