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Green Fleet Briefing: GM Explosion, Honda, Toyota, USPS, IBM

Here’s the latest alternative fuel and energy-efficient vehicle news affecting environmental and energy executives.

Last week’s explosion at a General Motors electric battery-testing facility could end up costing the company $5 million in property damage, The Detroit News reports.

GM said last week that the explosion happened during a test designed to damage, but not to ignite, the electric vehicle battery. The test was carried out at its Alternative Energy Center building in Warren, Mich.

The motor giant likened the explosion, which according to a police report “ripped through an adjacent area causing massive damage, blowing open steel doors and blowing out windows,” to a natural gas explosion, as gases leaking from the intentionally-damaged battery collected inside the building, and ignited. Several people were injured and one remains in hospital.

Toyota is to fix a control issue in the exhaust of its Prius hybrid cars, the Wall Street Journal reports. The motor giant is to replace actuators in the 2011-12 Prius for free. Weakened actuators can cause engine coolants to leak, the paper reports.

Hyundai is to make a “limited” number of fuel-cell electric vehicles for testing purposes, with a view to producing up to 10,000 of the alternative fuel vehicles a year by 2015, reports AutoblogGreen. The car maker is to start testing fuel-cell versions of its Tucson crossover vehicle (pictured), the web site reports.

Honda and the Japan Metals & Chemicals Co. are to extract rare earth metals from various used parts in Honda products. The companies claim this is the first time such an approach has been undertaken in a mass-production process at a recycling plant, rather than an experimental process.

VSE Corporation and its subsidiary Wheeler Bros. Inc. have delivered their prototype, fuel-efficient, repowered gasoline Long Life Vehicle for testing by the United States Postal Service. The LLV is fitted with VSE’s prototype RFD6 Re-Power Kit, which may increase the current vehicle’s fuel efficiency by as much as 75 percent, with a proportionate reduction in the vehicle’s carbon footprint compared to its predecessor, the company said.

Scientists from chemical firm Asahi Kasei and lithium-ion specialist Central Glass are to join IBM’s Battery 500 Project team that aims to accelerate the adoption of battery power in cars. Most electric vehicles can only travel about 100 miles before needing to recharge using today’s lithium-ion batteries, something IBM sees as a significant barrier to adoption. The Battery 500 Project aims to develop a battery capable of powering a a family-sized electric car for approximately 500 miles on a single charge.

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