General Motors continues to develop and improve its Ultium battery system and Ultium Drive family of drive units and motors. The automaker is finding new ways to increase efficiency and range and is now claiming that it will have Ultium electric vehicles (EVs) capable of up to 724 km of driving range on a single charge.

Some of those efficiencies come directly from the chemistry in the cells themselves. The Ultium cells use a state-of-the-art nickel, cobalt, and manganese aluminum chemistry that slashes cobalt content by more than 70 per cent. The chemistry helps range and cost, delivering 60 per cent more capacity per cell than those used in the Chevrolet Bolt EV.

The cells are also better for the environment, GM says, as cobalt is one of the elements that is resource-intensive and potentially damaging to mine. Once the new packs are used up, though they should last the life of the vehicle, GM will reuse and refurbish them. Since 2013, the company has recycled 100 per cent of the packs it has gotten back from customers, which includes warranty repairs from vehicles, and GM says most of its current EVs needing a warranty repair are fixed using a refurbished pack.

A new recycling process for scrap from cell manufacturing will capture and recycle up to 100 per cent of all scrap from the process. This includes cobalt, nickel, lithium, and other metals. GM says 95 per cent of it can be used to make new batteries, and that its new recycling process emits 30 per cent less greenhouse gas than prior processes. While much of the recycled metal will re-enter the industry stream, key battery materials, including lithium and cobalt, will go straight back into GM's battery production system, taking the place of virgin materials.

Modular packs, which can be added to Ultium vehicles stacked vertically as well as horizontally, make it easier to reuse or recycle. Only the affected pack (and module) need to be repaired or refurbished, not necessarily the entire component.

For efficiencies outside of the cells, GM is launching what it calls "almost completely wireless battery management." The company says it will be the first automaker to bring to production the new technology that reduces the number of wires in the pack up to 90 per cent. Doing this creates lighter vehicles, adds room for more cells, and lets the company bring new models to market more quickly, as there is no need for complex new wiring schemes for each vehicle. The system can also be updated over the air and also reduces the number of possible failure points inside the pack, which should improve reliability.

The next step is for the first Ultium-powered vehicles to hit the road. The first model is expected to be the GMC Hummer EV, which GMC says will become available this fall in Edition 1 trim.