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US government awards General Motors $2M for solid-state battery research

CNET logo CNET 8/16/2019 Sean Szymkowski
a large building: Inside this building, GM engineers are working on some wild stuff. General Motors © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Inside this building, GM engineers are working on some wild stuff. General Motors

The US Department of Energy on Friday announced its 2019 fiscal year award funds for what it calls "advanced vehicle technologies research" and both General Motors and Ford received healthy sums of cash.

The government awarded GM a total of $9.1 million, of which $2 million is explicitly related to research and development for solid-state batteries. The industry often regards solid-state batteries as a holy grail of sorts for electric powertrains. Not only do they leapfrog modern lithium-ion batteries due to their smaller packaging size and higher energy density, but they're also far more reliable and less prone to overheating. Not to mention that charging times can take a few minutes, rather than hours.

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Today, solid-state batteries are incredibly expensive to manufacture, but the federal money will likely help solve that problem at GM. Specifically, $1 million is for the "fundamental understanding of interfacial phenomena in solid-state batteries" and the other $1 million will go to research into "hot pressing of reinforced all-solid-state batteries with sulfide glass electrolyte."

It's this latter part that's most intriguing. According to a 2014 study, sulfide glass electrolyte performed very well in battery test cycles at room temperature and could be a key material to help bring solid-state batteries to the real world. Keeping batteries cool and ensuring they can offer repeat performance is, obviously, a key pillar when implementing the technology in vehicles.

The DOE's announcement declared the solid-state battery research will take place in Warren, Michigan, presumably at GM's Warren Technical Center. Meanwhile, the other $7.1 million will be spent at GM's Global Propulsion Systems center in Pontiac, Michigan, formerly called GM Powertrain.

a car parked on the side of a building: Could a more efficient engine find its way to Chevy's medium-duty trucks? Chevrolet © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Could a more efficient engine find its way to Chevy's medium-duty trucks? Chevrolet

The larger sum of money from the DOE will go toward research of a "low-mass and high-efficiency" engine for medium-duty trucks . GM's stable of medium-duty trucks currently includes the Chevrolet Silverado 4500HD, 5500HD and 6500HD. These Class 4, 5 and 6 trucks boast a 6.6-liter Duramax diesel V8 engine. Clearly, GM is banking on its medium-duty truck line after it was absent from the segment for years.

Roadshow reached out to General Motors to learn more about both of these projects but the automaker did not immediately return our request.

Across town, GM rival Ford received $7.5 million that will go toward "next-generation high-efficiency boosted engine development." If we're taking the word "boosted" in a rather colloquial sense, it sounds like Ford may have a new turbocharged engine family in the works. Roadshow also contacted Ford to learn more information about this project but the company did not respond immediately.

In total, the DOE said it awarded $59 million to 43 projects that largely revolve around electric powertrain components. Other research areas set to receive funding include alternative fuel and mobility services in rural America.

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The 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV is a class standout with 238 miles of driving range.
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