Boeing gambles on risky Dreamliner batteries
The lithium-ion power supplies that are causing headaches for the new 787 jet have a history of overheating in cellphones, laptops and other electronic devices.
The lithium-ion batteries that are causing major troubles for the new Boeing (BA) 787 Dreamliner have been in use commercially for over two decades.
Lightweight, rechargeable and very efficient, they power our cellphones, cameras, laptop computers and many other electronic devices. Larger versions of the batteries are helping to power some hybrid cars. And Boeing, according to the Seattle Times, is the first company "to use lithium-ion technology for the main batteries in a commercial airplane."
But researchers, manufacturers and consumers are all aware that lithium-ion batteries are far from perfect and can be hazardous.
The image at left shows what remains of the lithium-ion battery, part of an auxiliary power unit on a Boeing 787, that burned last week while on the tarmac at Boston's Logan International Airport.
Here are some other, recent examples of lithium-ion battery mishaps:
In 2007, Nokia (NOK) offered to replace 46 million mobile phone batteries manufactured by another company due to overheating risks.
Lithium-ion batteries have also been making sectors of the aviation industry very nervous for years now.
Germany’s Spiegel Online says there have been numerous incidents of laptops and cell phones burning during flights. And since 1991, according to the website, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration "has listed a whopping 132 such cases with this kind of battery, some of which set entire cargo compartments [of airplanes] on fire."
For its part, the FAA no longer allows lithium-ion batteries to be transported as cargo on passenger aircraft.
In fact, air carriers like United (UAL) are following Department of Transportation guidelines and advising passengers to not pack loose lithium batteries in checked luggage -- that is, batteries that aren’t already installed in electronic devices -- or to bring spare lithium-ion batteries in carry-ons.
So are lithium-ion batteries ready for prime time when it comes to the unforgiving world of aviation and commercial aircraft?
Jonathan Posner, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Washington, tells the Seattle Times that while research on lithium-ion batteries continues, the technology is a "logical choice" for the 787.
"I don’t think Boeing would have used it if it wasn’t mature," he said. For his part, Posner believes the Dreamliner’s woes might come from "an engineering issue that just has to be resolved. But I would be surprised if they don’t continue to use lithium-ion batteries in the 787."
But experts in the field of advanced battery technology say the use of liquid electrolytes in the current lithium-ion batteries remains a safety issue to be resolved.
Derek Johnson, director of engineering and technology development at Prieto Battery in Fort Collins, Colo., says the development of a safer, solid-state and commercially viable version of the lithium-ion battery is "still in its infancy" -- and that it may take several years before a prototype solid-state battery is available.
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Reduce the capacity of the plane by a couple of hundred pounds and put in some good old SLA spiral cell batteries. No leaks, no fires. In the rush to embrace new technologies companies don't use common sense. A bank of Optima Yellow tops would be a much better choice!
The Lithium Ion Battery failure could have been a result of vibraton. In every compionent. Airforce component, there is a series of qualification tests that are very severe. Especially Vibration. Vibration would accelerate the chemical activity of the acid liquid. Question, were the military qualification tests performed on the LIquid Ion Batteries for aircraft use?
Hold on people, we all should be aware that everyone who purchase light fictures from home depot, lowes,ace hardware,
etc. are putting your's and your families live's in danger. The crap china is putting out is completly unsafe. The safety
standards which this country had for everything made in the usa no longer is properly enforced. and these i have phiscally witnessed by fact of repairing and replacing these devices.
They took a big risk and are getting burned.
They better have gutsy management to come out with right solution including throwing away lithium.
Wrong move and it can hurt big time.
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