All Lithium Batteries are not the same

One of my ongoing ‘burn’ moments comes when a project is 3/4 done and someone wants to change the ‘spec’. Even a minor specification change can “have issues”.

So with Boeing and the Lithium Battery Fiasco, “what were they thinking” came to mind. Many of us have heard of laptops with lithium batteries bursting into flames. A simple quick check of lithium batteries shows they have a flammable organic electrolyte with lithium in it. Sometimes all the little lithium bits can line up and short out, overheating. That, then, causes the electrolyte to vent and that can then be ignited. Hot organic with metal bits in it being sprayed into air; what could go wrong?

Yet some lithium batteries don’t do that so much. Little is heard of cameras bursting into flame, for example. The “why” is that the primary Lithiums used in cameras (the disposable batteries) are one kind of chemistry. The rechargeable lithiums come in several chemistries; each a bit different and with different levels of performance (and risk).

As a bit of a ‘good news bad news’ there’s a bit of a smoking gun (IMHO) on the Boeing batteries. IFF this is the case and they recognize it, a “fix” could be a simple as swapping to a different, known, battery. Otherwise they could be in the soup for a long time. (Especially if they keep a more risky chemistry cell for, um, liability or ego reasons).

Boeing looks to boost 787 lithium ion battery service life

By: Jon Ostrower
12:00 14 Jun 2008

As Boeing activated the electrical system of its 787 for the first time last week, the airframer acknowledged that it was exploring a change to its power system for production aircraft due to longevity concerns.

Boeing will move away from its original lithium ion battery design for its main and auxiliary power units, flight-control electronics, emergency lighting system and recorder independent power supply. Instead, Boeing is investigating the incorporation of manganese inside the lithium ion battery to boost service life.

Boeing has not determined which 787 will be the first to receive the new battery modifications, although multiple programme sources have told Flight’s FlightBlogger affiliate that the new battery could be introduced as early as Airplane Seven, the first production 787 scheduled for delivery to All Nippon Airways in the third quarter of 2009.

The sources add that the first six flight-test 787 aircraft will have the original feature lithium ion batteries, but will be retrofitted with new batteries before delivery to airline customers.

The use of lithium ion batteries is to be the first application of the technology on a commercial jetliner.

The US Federal Aviation Administration voiced its concerns
about the use of lithium ion batteries in an April 2007 proposed special condition.

At the time, the FAA said that the 787-8 would have “novel or unusual design features” and required, “additional safety standards that the [FAA] administrator considers necessary to establish a level of safety equivalent to that established by the existing airworthiness standards”.

The FAA cited three specific safety concerns about lithium ion batteries, which included overcharging, over-discharging and the potential flammability of cell components.

Boeing underscores that the change in battery technology is unrelated to any safety concerns and the airframer is fully complying with the 2007 Special Condition.

Japan’s GS Yuasa supplies the batteries for the 787 Dreamliner.

So there is a lithium ion battery in common use, though it is still ‘novel’ for passenger aircraft. FAA is a bit worried about it. Boeing says “not to worry”, but then does a battery chemistry swap after testing as they go into production.

Now I don’t know that the manganese lithium chemistry swap ’caused issues’, but I do know it’s a very bad idea to swap components after the testing is done. It’s also a bad idea to swap components that are sensitive to things like charge rates and pressure cycling and discharge depth and expect the new chemistry to be a drop in replacement for the charge and discharge management circuitry. EVEN if they “usually are”.

Gives a pretty good idea why Lithium batteries can burst into flame. It talks about the small cells used in things like laptops.

Implies that the manganese chemistry is more safe:

Chemistry, performance, cost, and safety characteristics vary across LIB types. Handheld electronics mostly use LIBs based on lithium cobalt oxide (LCO), which offers high energy density, but have well-known safety concerns, especially when damaged. Lithium iron phosphate (LFP), lithium manganese oxide (LMO) and lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) offer lower energy density, but longer lives and inherent safety. These chemistries are being widely used for electric tools, medical equipment and other roles. NMC in particular is a leading contender for automotive applications. Lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide (NCA) and lithium titanate (LTO) are specialty designs aimed at particular niche roles.

but it also has a different set of electrical characteristics. That leaves me wondering just how much of a real drop in replacement they can be…

The most commercially popular negative electrode material is graphite. The positive electrode is generally one of three materials: a layered oxide (such as lithium cobalt oxide), a polyanion (such as lithium iron phosphate), or a spinel (such as lithium manganese oxide).

The electrolyte is typically a mixture of organic carbonates such as ethylene carbonate or diethyl carbonate containing complexes of lithium ions. These non-aqueous electrolytes generally use non-coordinating anion salts such as lithium hexafluorophosphate (LiPF6), lithium hexafluoroarsenate monohydrate (LiAsF6), lithium perchlorate (LiClO4), lithium tetrafluoroborate (LiBF4), and lithium triflate (LiCF3SO3).

Depending on materials choices, the voltage, capacity, life, and safety of a lithium-ion battery can change dramatically.
Recently, novel architectures using nanotechnology have been employed to improve performance.
Lithium-ion batteries with a lithium iron phosphate cathode and graphite anode have a nominal open-circuit voltage of 3.2 V and a typical charging voltage of 3.6 V. Lithium nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) oxide cathode with graphite anodes have a 3.7 V nominal voltage with a 4.2 V max charge. The charging procedure is performed at constant voltage with current-limiting circuitry (i.e., charging with constant current until a voltage of 4.2 V is reached in the cell and continuing with a constant voltage applied until the current drops close to zero). Typically, the charge is terminated at 3% of the initial charge current. In the past, lithium-ion batteries could not be fast-charged and needed at least two hours to fully charge. Current-generation cells can be fully charged in 45 minutes or less. Some lithium-ion varieties can reach 90% in as little as 10 minutes.

So we have a swap of chemistry in the cells. While we don’t know what the old chemistry was, exactly, it was likely about 1/2 V different. That means adjusting the chargers, the voltage regulators, the monitoring and alert circuitry. WAS all that done?

While I’m sure the engineers were involved in the swap and designing a swap procedure, I also know that there is a world of difference between “Design using FOO and you have 3 years” vs a “suit” showing up and saying “Can we swap to BAR? OK, you have 3 months.” That is a large part of why ‘last minute changes’ are often the source of “problems”.

There is a giant gap between “I think I can make it work” and “This is my best design”.

OK, all speculative. But speculation based on a lot of years working projects and dealing with FUBARs caused by last minute changes to the “spec”.

Were I at Boeing and / or the FAA right now, I’d be looking very hard at the option of swapping back to the original designed in and tested / accepted battery and just yanking the ‘swapped in after testing’ ones that seem to have a bursting into flame problem

In related news, the battery maker stock is way down hard, while Boeing is only down a little bit. IMHO it ought to be the other way around. Most likely the battery maker makes a fine battery, that Boeing has put in the wrong place without enough testing. Then again, in the search for someone to take the fall, it would be easy for Boeing to swap suppliers and announce it was all better now…

Personally, I’d avoid both of them for a while. Fast trades can catch the ‘dead cat bounce’ as the short sellers exit the trade (likely in a couple of days) but the risk is that months from now they still have not fixed the ‘root cause’ and another round of batteries starts to smoke. So, for example, if it IS the chemistry change, just putting in a different make of the (now in production) ‘wrong’ chemistry cell is not going to fix things permanently.

If they DO swap to the old tested cell chemistry, they will likely come back for a second try at the chemistry swap in a few years as the cells need replacing, and we could end up with a repeat then. One would hope someone, in a suit, somewhere, is listening to the ‘battery guy’ that they paid no heed before… (At an aviation company, the airframe / wings aeronautics guys are ‘hot’ and the engine / powerplant guys right behind them. Most other folks are ‘support staff’ just expected to make the other stuff you glue around the important stuff… but not expected to be ‘stars’, nor typically treated like one. I think someone may be learning that the ‘battery guy’ matters. Just like Air Bus learned that the ‘pitot tube guy’ mattered when they lost a plane from those plugging up. It really is important to remember that every one of those parts matters, as does the person who designs it.)

For now, I expect they will get this fixed in about a month. But I’d watch out for hints of a reprise in about 2 to 3 years at battery replacement time…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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75 Responses to All Lithium Batteries are not the same

  1. crosspatch says:

    Many years ago I worked in a shop that manufactured GPS pods for fighter aircraft. These used lithium batteries and we had a couple a year would catch fire. It would generally happen over night and the morning shift would arrive to a stench and a mess. We finally had to stop charging the batteries over night. I believe these specific units were used only for training, though, not for operational use. The lithium batteries are attractive for that application because their power density per pound of weight is good. I believe the operational pods used AGM batteries because those were designed to take battle damage in combat without burning or leaking. The training pods had fuel savings as a major design constraint and every pound counts in those applications.

  2. Petrossa says:

    It’s the main reason why battery operated vehicles can never work. They need active safety measures. If a component fails, you risk a catastrophic failure. Even a minor fender bender can cause a major batterypack failure. Many reports cite car owners seeing their cars (and carports or worse) go up in flames after an incident.
    What also isn’t known widely that draining the modern carpacks renders them inoperative, needing a fuel batterypack switch at 1000s of $$$

    Liquid carbon based fuel otoh is passively safe. You need to actively cause it to ignite.

  3. BobN says:

    This sounds like a real problem with many possibilities for mistakes. Just a few of the obvious ones.
    1) Has the load characteristics changed from what was tested?
    2) Has the recharge circuitry been calibrated and tested at each airport.
    3) Was the battery testing done at various altitudes.
    4) Is there a thermal warning letting Pilots know the battery is stressed and to shut something down.
    5) Lithium batteries have control circuitry, were they qualified separately
    6) Do they have a fire extinguisher system to halt a fire outbreak on the batteries or a containment compartment.
    7) Do they switch banks while in operation, sparking issues.
    8) What temperature swings do the battery see (Where are they located)

    There has even been speculation that Lithium batteries may undergo some LENR ignition after being stressed in such a manner. The spontaneous fires have people wondering.

    The Obama funded battery company basically failed from some of what I read, because of a fire problem. warning signs for Boeing, they should have been all over the data.

    I would be very reticent to sign off on using these batteries in a live or death system, the history just screams danger.

  4. sandy mcclintock says:

    I have used NiCad batteries for years, but have started to switch to Lithium Polymer batteries. The joy of the Lithium cells is that they are still almost fully charged a month after charging! I believe the loss is only about 3% a month; NiCad batteries are mainly flat a month after charging.
    The other astounding thing is the current draw that is possible – my e-bike has 2 28 volt batteries in series which can deliver 50 amps continuously. The Battery Management System (BMS) cuts out when the voltage drops to a point where the battery would suffer damage, and the BMS also cuts out the charging current to prevent overcharging. The weight of the Lithium Polymers is much less than an equivalent Lead-acid battery (2.5 times less I believe)

  5. Speed says:

    This could be a vendor problem. A recent “electrical” problem with 787s was traced to a batch (16 pieces) of defective “boards.” Modern QA is based on starting with “known all good parts” and having the build process under control. IFF those are true the result is all good products — in this case a 787.

    In the early days of light turboprop and turbojet aircraft, lead-acid batteries were replaced with NiCads which would occasionally experience a thermal runaway event. A small number of aircraft were lost. Problems included defective maintenance (users and mechanics applied lead-acid knowledge to more demanding NiCads), poorly designed charging systems and operational errors.

    The problems were solved.

    NiCads were used because they weighed much less than lead-acid batteries and could still supply the high starting current required by turbine engines. Transport aircraft (727s at the time) continued to use lead-acid technology.

    Click to access amb_may-jun92.pdf

  6. adolfogiurfa says:

    I we look at a potentials table we will realize that being lithium having the highest negative potential it produces a higher differential pair with another metal of lower potential( the higher the differential is the same as a higher waterfall for producing electricity-in the case of a hydroelectric), however this reaction always generates heat(exothermic reaction) :
    Balanced half-reaction Eo / V  
    Li+ + e- Li(s) -3.045
    K+ + e- K(s) -2.925
    Cs+ + e- Cs(s) -2.910
    Ba2+ + 2e- Ba(s) -2.906
    Ca2+ + 2e- Ca(s) -2.866
    Na+ + e- Na(s) -2.714
    Ce3+ + 3e- Ce(s) -2.480
    Mg2+ + 2e- Mg(s) -2.363
    Th4+ + 4e- Th(s) -1.900
    Be2+ + 2e- Be(s) -1.850
    U3+ + 3e- U(s) -1.798
    Al3+ + 3e- Al(s) -1.662
    Ti2+ + 2e- Ti(s) -1.630
    Zr4+ + 4e- Zr(s) -1.539
    V2+ + 2e- V(s) -1.180
    Mn2+ + 2e- Mn(s) -1.180
    H3BO3 + 3H+ + 3e- B(s) + 3H2O -0.869
    Nickel-Cadmium batteries, instead:
    Cd2+ + 2e- Cd(s) -0.403
    Ni2+ + 2e- Ni(s) -0.250
    But…somebody said that Cadmium was a bad “chemical”….btw.What in the world is it not “chemical”, kind of out of this world, really stupid.

  7. Speed says:

    Information and pictures from the NTSB

    NTSB Provides Second Investigative Update on Boeing 787 Battery Fire in Boston

  8. adolfogiurfa says:

    They will change to:
    Zinc-Manganese dioxide alkaline battery:

    In an alkaline battery, the anode (negative terminal) is made of zinc powder, which gives more surface area for increased current, and the cathode (positive terminal) is composed of manganese dioxide. The alkaline electrolyte of potassium hydroxide is not consumed during discharge.

    Section through an alkaline battery.
    The half-reactions are:[11]
    Zn(s) + 2OH−(aq) → ZnO(s) + H2O(l) + 2e− [e° = -1.28 V]
    2MnO2(s) + H2O(l) + 2e− → Mn2O3(s) + 2OH−(aq) [e° = +0.15 V]
    Overall reaction:
    Zn + 2MnO2 = Mn2O3 + Zn eº(1.43 V)

  9. Chuckles says:

    I see a lot of the press are shouting about ‘faulty’ batteries, like you I suspect that the setup of the charging circuitry is a more likely culprit. I’ve been involved with large lithium battery packs in airborne ops. ‘Avoid’, is the best advice available.

    This article, in passing, makes a VERY important point regarding the whole 787 power system and circuitry –


    ‘This is no ordinary glitch that Boeing can easily sort out. Boeing has introduced an entirely new design paradigm which causes the problems on the 787, a paradigm that makes the Green Movement happy. Instead of using mechanical energy to power aircraft systems, the 787 uses stored electricity. Electricity is stored in high-capacity lithium ion batteries, freeing the engines from burning fossil fuel. Boeing jettisoned efficient copper wires, replacing them with lighter aluminum wiring.’

    Slightly different take here –

    There is no engine bleed air system, it’s apparently a pure electrical power system

    Oh, and the brakes are electric too….

  10. Speed says:

    pjmedia via Chuckles above … “Instead of using mechanical energy to power aircraft systems, the 787 uses stored electricity.”

    And that stored electricity comes from where? Solar panels on the wings? There is a Ram Air Turbine but that’s used only after the last light blinks out.

    From Wikipedia …
    Among 787 flight systems, a key contribution to efficiency is the new electrical architecture called bleedless, replacing bleed air and hydraulic power sources with electrically powered compressors and pumps, while completely eliminating pneumatics and hydraulics from some subsystems (e.g., engine starters or brakes). Boeing says this system extracts 35% less power from the engines, allowing increased thrust and improved fuel economy. Total available on-board electrical power is 1.45 megawatts, which is five times the power available on conventional pneumatic airliners
    (links removed)

    Today the race between Boeing and Airbus (and to a lesser extend Embraer and Canadair) is to fly more and fly farther on less fuel. Efficiency, aerodynamics and weight control are the weapons. Reducing and removing bleed air and hydraulic systems helps with all three allowing each airplane carry more people and cargo farther using less fuel.

  11. Gail Combs says:

    Sure sounds like a very good reason not to fly on new Boeing Aircraft.

    This is a good example of the Law of Unintended Consequences so typical of having Touchy Feely Greens (or marketing types) making decisions. There is a heck of a lot of ‘miles’ between a concept and a safe working design but engineers have a real hard time convincing those in charge of that. When the bureaucrats get involved and especially when they shorten critical design deadlines you just KNOW there is going to be a SNAFU or three.

    Anyone who has ever worked in industry has horror stories about this type of thinking. You don’t get a baby in three months by having three women working on the problem. Engineers and scientist know that. The liberal arts types never seem to figure it out.

  12. John Robertson says:

    Boeings new motto, terrorists stay home, we blow ourselves up?
    Noticed the lithium ion batteries will not produce power at -30, if I use these cordless drills outdoors here in winter, I have to keep the battery inside jacket, until I need it. When cold its NFG.
    I wonder if the Boeing batteries are facing thermal cycling, or keep at constant temperature?
    Aluminum wiring is banned for house wiring in Northern Canada, thermal cycling causes the terminations and splices to loosen, burning down the house.
    Design by committee strikes again?

  13. Gail Combs says:

    Aluminum wiring, really really sucks.

    You can buy it for electric fencing so I tried it because galvanized rusts esp. in NC. The stuff is weak, it is brittle and it stretches. I can reroll my galvanized temporary fencing without a problem and maybe get a bit of ‘work hardening’ where it went through an insulator. The aluminum breaks at each insulator if it got bent at all. The 14-gauge aluminum wire is a bit better (Breaking Load: 215 lb) that the 17-gauge with a Breaking Load: 90 lb. However it is the stretch and ease of breaking with just a bit of ‘work hardening’ that makes it really useless unless you can put it up in a nice straight line and leave it. Even then if you do a western union splice or any type of twisting at the termination you have a weak spot where it is GOING to break.

  14. Petrossa says:

    As i remarked earlier: All batteries of any type are only actively safe. Faulty components lead to catastrophic failure. A standard lead-acid car battery can already set your car ablaze easily, filling it with with 100 kw worth of energy that can be released after a fenderbender is not my idea of future automotion.
    The only currently feasible way of driving electric is diesel electric. Tried and true for decades. Batteries a dead end, there is not a safe way to store large amounts of energy in a moving vehicle in such a way that you don’t need a lorry to drag your powerpack around.

  15. Richard Ilfeld says:

    Airplanes have difficult birthings because physics is a bitch. My guess would be the motivation behind the battery/electrical control systems is net weight, not green politics. A this point we still have zero life loss/ zero in-flight disabling equipment failure. So far this is a pretty good performance as compared to the historical record. There are some smart and capable folks at both Boeing and the FAA. There seem to be few in the reporting community, and almost none in the political arena.
    Compare with Airbus fly-by-wire & telemetry, & so far Boeing is doing pretty well.

  16. sabretoothed says:

    This is all the union’s fault and the IPCC’s fault. Boeing started doing this to try to break the Aluminum use in the plane so that they could get rid of these expensive workers. Now we have an expensive plane that catches fire just to save a bit of fuel which if we don’t use will need to be flared into the air anyway, great going LOL

  17. nemesis says:

    Way out of my depth here but there is a discussion on this at pprune the pilots forum. The end of a long thread here; in case it is of any interest.

  18. E.M.Smith says:

    @John Robertson:

    We played with aluminum house wiring for a while, then banned it, but I don’t know the present status. For a while some switches and sockets placarded for Alu were being notified as NG for aluminum (per NEC) so there are at least 2 Al markings on such. One old that is NOT acceptable and one new that was acceptable last time I looked, but who knows now…

    Overall, it looks to me like trying to push too many things to the limit at once. Wiring to all electric to lithium batteries to composite airframe to … Nickel batteries have been used in aircraft for a very long time. I’d rather they ‘burned’ the added weight and didn’t have to worry about flaming batteries…

    @Gail Combs:

    Also it has a strange stretch limit. For most metals, like Iron, you can defect it some, and it suffers no harm. For aluminum, ANY deformation causes stretch and hardening. This is especially problematic in airplane skins and engine blocks. Skins eventually crack just from the minor stress of the pressurization cycle. Engines with an iron block can run forever. An aluminum engine block is constantly having ‘creep’ of bolts and all. For that reason they will fail. The designer just decides how long it ought to last (how many stress cycles) and designs for that..

    So an iron wire, flexed by not exceeding Young’s Modulus (not permanently bent) can have that flexure an infinite number of times. Aluminum ‘flexed not bent’ hardens and breaks eventually, lifetime proportional to how far flexed.


    A ‘field expedient’ “redneck welder” can be made from a car battery or two and jumper cables. Just add the welding rod / stick.

    @Richard Ilfeld:

    While I’m generally positively inclined to Boeing, they have had a merger lately and a change of management in the process. (Recent being years / decade scale…) They moved the HQ to Chicago as well… Not like Chicago has any ‘morality’ and “POV” issues…

    So yeah, I’m not writing them off yet, but it’s not the same Boeing of 747 creation days.

  19. Sera says:

    The 787’s lithium ion batteries are part of the Dreamliner’s electrical power conversion system, which is manufactured by France’s Thales SA. United Technologies Corp.’s Aerospace Systems unit supplies the overall system, which uses 1.45 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 400 homes.

    I would also like to know if Boeing has large investments in GS Yuasa.

  20. Petrossa says:

    I used it as a field soldering iron. Just take a leadpencil, it glows nicely red.

  21. E.M.Smith says:


    That’s pushing 2000 horsepower. What would you need that much for?


    Nice to know. Always interested in ‘field expedient solutions’. Once had a little plastic dingus in the brake air plumbing on a car break. No power brakes (and that sucker needed them… 2 tons of V 8 ) Some cotton from an old T shirt and some epoxy. Approximate the two halves of the broken piece and wrap with saturated cloth. Hold and wait. Worked fine for a few weeks (until the mechanic didn’t appreciate it and replaced it… with a part that had to be ordered from Mercedes for nearly $100 …)

    But now ‘epoxy and old shirt’ are in my “Aw Shit Kit” ;-)

  22. Petrossa says:

    I was in a remote farmhouse and the old tube radio started to crackle. Soon found it was a loose connection. The farmer look at me if lost my mind, but the radio worked again and he just shook his head and walked away.

  23. Jason Bradstreet says:

    My life long motto for long range air travel always has been `If it’s not a Boeing, I’m not going. Well,since the introduction of the ‘Dreamliner`, terrible name for an aircraft by the way, I have have flipped this Boeing to my ‘avoid list’ which contains a number of Airbusses, a few Embraer’s and everything made in Russia. To replace the APU by a bank of batteries may sound very `Green`, therefore environmental friendly and above all ‘sustainable’ but in the real world it isn’t. Boeing has turned a multi million dollar aircraft into a second hand laptop computer and that tells me that the Greenies are at it. Boeing has been infiltrated with Green Muppets. It’s total madness and they should leave this green dead end street immediately before real accidents happen. A reliable APU is a jet A1 fueled turbine. It makes a hell of a noise, it sucks huge amounts of fuel but it delivers all the power you need and it’s totally proven technology. It’s RELIABLE, the second most important word in the business after the word SAFE. Therefore I skip the battery discussion completely. The true bush pilots in Alaska not even rely on a battery and a starter engine to get their engine cranked up.
    They still swing the prop. The moment they switch to batteries for starters I have another look.
    For now I’m done.

  24. Wayne Job says:

    Once upon a time I was an aircraft engineer and a flight engineer did the odd few thousand hours. Have kept up an interest in aircraft developement. This 787 is not using anything that is new, most has been tried and tested for a long time in the advanced military aircraft. Putting it all together on a new generation of airliner is a brave move by Boeing. Their choice of wiring material and battery may come back to haunt them, I have no doubt it is a magnificent craft and hope that their problems can be overcome before lives are lost.

  25. Wayne Job says:

    That the FAA over ruled the pilots request for a fire control system in the battery compartment, may also cause some concern in the future.

  26. Graeme No.3 says:

    Bureaucratic decision making has a long history. See R101 and the “fuel that won’t burn”.

  27. Petrossa says:

    With the introduction of TSA like ‘persons’ all over the world i stopped flying so no skin of my back.

  28. Speed says:

    Japanese safety investigators have determined an All Nippon Airways 787 lithium-ion main battery malfunctioned after being over-charged, forcing the widebody to make an emergency landing on 16 January and triggering a global grounding of the fleet still in effect.

    The 32V battery overheated and sprayed burning electrolytes in a compartment beneath the cockpit because it received a charge exceeding its design limit, Japan aviation safety agency investigator Hideo Kosugi told reporters in a press conference near the damaged aircraft still parked at Takamatsu airport.
    [ … ]
    In the most optimistic scenario, Boeing would find that the ANA malfunction over Japan and the Japan Airlines battery explosion and fire in Boston on 7 January were both caused by manufacturing errors. More problematic would be a design error that would require a redesign effort and re-certification.

  29. E.M.Smith says:


    Good stuff!

    I’m still betting on a last minute battery type swap and a resultant mis-match of charger / monitor / etc. to chemistry. Given the ‘overcharge’ diagnosis, and that the manganese batteries have a higher voltage, I’d even go so far as to say someone cranked up the charger voltage setting but didn’t allow for some edge effect at that setting (charger or battery non-linearity or non-match to the curve shape of the other chemistry or current / voltage curve differences).

    It will be very interesting to see if a ‘temporary fix’ is a swap back to the prior chemistry ;-)

    Of course, they will more likely find a proper charge controller setting.

    In any case, I think it is an issue that would have surfaced had they tested the final configuration instead of testing on one and flying the other…

  30. crosspatch says:

    According to this, it doesn’t look like the one that caught fire in Japan was over charged.

  31. M Simon says:

    It has nothing (generally) to do with greens. Lower fuel consumption and ounces of weight are one of the prime criteria in aircraft design. That said the care and feeding of every Li chemistry is different. As a former aerospace guy (aircraft electrical systems) it is difficult to believe that any of the engineers believed in “drop in”. The electronics might remain the same but the software would be different.

  32. M Simon says:

    In addition I would have contracted with an Israeli company – Tadrian – for the batteries. They have had about 30 years experience with high reliability Li batteries. Probably politically incorrect though. Plus it might make the Arabs buy Airbus.

  33. M Simon says:

    United Technologies Corp.’s Aerospace Systems – about 2 or 3 miles from where i live. I used to work there. I probably should ask some of my old buddies what is going on.

  34. M Simon says:

    “Sure sounds like a very good reason not to fly on new Boeing Aircraft.”

    Never fly on any new aircraft. My rule is two years operational. I haven’t flown since TSA. Before TSA I ALWAYS got wanded. I can just imagine what TSA would do to me.

  35. M Simon says:

    “In any case, I think it is an issue that would have surfaced had they tested the final configuration instead of testing on one and flying the other…”

    The change in batteries would be well tested. Aerospace is not like laptops.

    Did they miss something? It happens.

  36. Sera says:

    @ M Simon:

    Ask your buddies why the plane needs 1.45 megawatts of electricity.

  37. adolfogiurfa says:

    The simpler the safer. How many more crazy consequences of the UN´s green fanatic agenda the world is going to suffer?

  38. adolfogiurfa says:

    All lithium batteries are not the same but are based in the same alkaline exothermic reaction. (heat producing…ya know)
    @M Simon: You are absolutely right: Areospace is not like laptops. Capisce?!!
    We do not want anymore neither “joystick” driven nor electric “green” airplanes, not to mention Windows self updating, based airplanes. No more “Nightmare Liners”, please!

  39. M Simon says:


    I suggest you get some experience in aerospace design before parading your ignorance.

    If you don’t want that type of design may I suggest you get the proper degrees and experience (or work your way up as I did) and do a better job.

    It has nothing to do with “green”. It has to do with the cost of lugging around tons of lead. If you were effectively working on getting the flying public to demand higher costs for their tickets I might have some respect for you. But I see no move at all in that direction.


    My buddies have nothing to do with that. Boeing says what they want and my buddies to the best of their ability design it.

    My guess – since the plane has been flying for two years – is a manufacturing defect. Although at this stage I would not rule out a design defect.

  40. M Simon says:

    Why 1.45 MW? If more actuators are electrical you are going to need more electrical power. Eliminating hydraulics lowers weight. And that lowers operating costs. At least they got rid of the IDG. A design pioneered in the 40s. I thought it was time to change 15 years ago. The 747-400 has 4 engines with a 30KW AC generator per (not counting DC generation via alternators).

    The “Smart Grid” (a stupid idea) is based on how aircraft operate. Total control of all loads and generation.

  41. Sera says:

    @ M Simon:

    Thanks for the follow up. I noticed that the bleed-tubes are only used for de-icing the engine inlets, so yeah, they will need lots of power for the duration of the flight since they can no longer ‘make’ power in the air. In the old system, you only needed one engine running to maintain power. In the new system, none of the engines give electrical power to the plane. Got it, thanks.

  42. Aero Ninja says:

    What makes you all so certain that they actually changed to manganese? According to all the sources I can find, it is still cobalt.

  43. E.M.Smith says:

    @Aero Ninja:

    It isn’t “sure”, it was a guess based on the statement that they DID change from one type in testing to another type in operations coupled with the article talking about the expected change:

    Boeing will move away from its original lithium ion battery design for its main and auxiliary power units, flight-control electronics, emergency lighting system and recorder independent power supply. Instead, Boeing is investigating the incorporation of manganese inside the lithium ion battery to boost service life.

    At present, the only folks who really know are the folks who installed / removed the batteries. The rest of it is speculation as to likely causes based on what little is published.

    @M. Simon:

    There is testing and then there is TESTING. Flying for a few years of shakedown and acceptance and certification is far more complete than “changing a part, did it work?”… Batteries change and age and develop problems over a years span, so it just isn’t possible to ‘test’ a change in shorter time than that. Yet we have a clear statement that they changed battery type in the transition to production.

    Does that mean the swap was the problem? Not at all. It means it is a high suspicion thing to look into and investigate. Most of my professional life has been spent figuring out ‘what went wrong’ in various computer and electrical things. It is always a mess and while some cases are obvious, some are very much not. So my speculation about a battery swap is just that. A guess. I’d give it about 30% odds of being right, maybe less, not more.

    Basically, I’ve had a whole lot of “tested last minute changes” that blew up. Long duration testing finds more of those things and gets them fixed before production. So it is a probability thing. Could it simply be that using Lithium Batteries was a bad idea? Or that manufacturing variation can cause your airplane to burst into flames? Sure. That’s the other 70% of the probability guess.

    Per “software”: The notion of just changing the software and all will be better is unfortunately common (in all sorts of fields) as more things are computer driven. What tends to be forgotten is that the software can also be ‘not quite right’ or not as well tested in the changed version. “The software was changed” is more likely to make me cringe than give comfort that things were “tested and OK”… So was the changed software to tell the charger “charge this other type of battery this way” tuned for a small battery pack in the lab, or a large one in a vibrating chamber at 30,000 ft with less heat conductivity from the air? Only the engineers and techs involved will know. But that is the kind of thing that gets sorted out in a couple of years of type testing; and just the kind of thing that gets missed in a ‘field upgrade’ with unit testing.

    So it is that kind of experience that leads me to say “look here” it is a fruitful place to look. Again, that does not mean this is THE answer, or even the most likely odds ( it isn’t ) but it is a likely single place to look quickly and see if there is something suspect.

    They say the FAA Regs are written in blood. That’s true. There are lots of things that are missed and lots of things that are learned new. I am not arguing at all for freezing technology. I’m all in favor of new tech like composites and ‘fly by wire’ (that is well proven in military aircraft – where a bit of ‘blood in the learning’ is more acceptable). I’m mostly just interested in making sure there is less blood in the writing, and maybe a bit more integrated type testing of completely new approaches to flight. Yet if it does turn out to be a manufacturing issue, that’s even more of a worry. That means that at any time, forever, an error of a complicated process in a sealed unit can give you Flaming Planes Batman! ;-) Much harder to assure it never returns…

    So we will “know when we know”, and hopefully it will be an easy fix. (Frankly, I’m hoping it is a chemistry swap as the swap back is quick, easy, and deterministic once you know that was the problem. An unknown manufacturing variation is much harder to nail down…)

  44. E.M.Smith says:

    An interesting “other point of view” here:

    Yes, from ‘wandering some links’ from the link given by Aero Ninja above.

    Elon Musk: Boeing 787 battery fundamentally unsafe
    By: Zach Rosenberg Washington DC
    11:19 29 Jan 2013
    The lithium ion batteries installed on the Boeing 787 are inherently unsafe, says Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and owner of electric car maker Tesla.

    “Unfortunately, the pack architecture supplied to Boeing is inherently unsafe,” writes Musk in an email to Flightglobal.

    “Large cells without enough space between them to isolate against the cell-to-cell thermal domino effect means it is simply a matter of time before there are more incidents of this nature,” he adds.

    Both Boeing and Tesla use batteries fueled by lithium cobalt oxide, which is among the most energy-dense and flammable chemistries of lithium-ion batteries on the market. While Boeing elected to use a battery with a grouping of eight large cells, Tesla’s batteries contain thousands of smaller cells that are independently separated to prevent fire in a single cell from harming the surrounding ones.

    “Moreover, when thermal runaway occurs with a big cell, a proportionately larger amount of energy is released and it is very difficult to prevent that energy from then heating up the neighboring cells and causing a domino effect that results in the entire pack catching fire,” says Musk.

    An aerospace-capable version of Tesla’s battery has been developed for use in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 space launch vehicle. SpaceX, also owned by Musk, competes with Boeing/Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance for customers. Boeing has thus far declined offers of assistance from Tesla and SpaceX, says Musk.

    “They [Boeing] believe they have this under control, although I think there is a fundamental safety issue with the architecture of a pack with large cells,” writes Musk in an email. “It is much harder to maintain an even temperature in a large cell, as the distance from the center of the cell to the edge is much greater, which increases the risk of thermal runaway.”

    I’ve quoted this in full as when I clicked on another link at that site it put up a ‘join to see’ banner, so I have no idea if folks can follow the link and see this article in the future. (Normally I just quote a few bits and use the link as a ‘feeder’ to the site in question; but when they have rude and ‘sporadic’ access, well, have to quote more so folks can see what I’m talking about.)

    So on the one hand this is someone who is in competition with Boeing. On the other hand, it is someone with a lot of high performance lithium battery experience and not a lot of flaming cars…

    This article, too, says they use Lithium Cobalt batteries. So we have a 2008 article that speaks in a prospective way about a chemistry change, but no article saying that change was accomplished. Then a couple that say they are still using the cobalt chemistry. It would be nice to get a definitive answer.

    In any case, it looks like the battery is simply wrong. Either too volatile a chemistry for the physical package size, or not suited to the duty cycle longer term. Neither is a very quick fix. With the amount of money on the line, I’d expect some kind of ‘fix’ to be put forward, even if only an ‘interim fix’ as they continue to study things. Heck, it would be ‘worth it’ to put a fresh battery in each time it landed and do examination of each pack post flight as a ‘testing / validation’ process. (Yes, expensive, but at least they would be flying…)

  45. Petrossa says:

    What i know about chemistry fits on a pinhead, but to me it’s abundantly clear that the more dense you store chemically electricity the bigger the risk. To me there is just no way around it it. You need ever more reactive compounds to keep the package small enough per kw/h and have it charge fast enough.
    Barring a groundbreaking discovery batteries are never going to be a safe, viable solution to large capacity/small package electricity storage.

    Bye,bye electric car. Was a nice fantasy.

  46. E.M.Smith says:


    Generally true, and exacerbated by the fact that both sides of the chemical reaction are in the same package. (For gasoline, the oxidizer is outside the fuel tank). Still, that doesn’t completely compromise functional e-cars.

    For 90% of what I do, a Tesla would be just fine, for example. And as we have more than 2 cars, using a fuel car for long trips would be easy.

    Going much beyond the Tesla is highly unlikely to happen, though…

    FWIW, all energy storage systems have that problem to some extent. Even gasoline cars can make spectacular fires / crashes. So you really just need something “no more prone” than gasoline. It doesn’t have to be perfect all the time… (But, IMHO, Lithiums have a long ways to go to be safe enough…)

  47. Petrossa says:

    My problem with batteries is they need active safety. They failsafe electronic components to keep them from catastrophic failure, whereas gasoline/diesel is inert. And anyway, excepting the ford Pinto no car exists with a gasresevoir that can explode by accident. And for sure not just standing still or being flooded which electric cars tend to be good at.

    As long as your parts are made in china it’s a question of when not if it fails.

  48. E.M.Smith says:


    I’m waiting for the stories of cars bursting into flames from an accident causing a cell fire cascade; and for stories of cars going up in flames when the garage floods and shorts out the battery… Then again, we may not get there. Given the stories of $40,000 “bricking” of cars due to battery discharge, we may never get enough of them sold to have the more “interesting” but low frequency events show up ;-)

    BTW, while Diesel is nearly inert (needs a wick to burn in a puddle) gasoline isn’t. There are a fair number of pretty big fires each year in crashes. One just happened in the fog on I-16 ? or some such per the news. Then there were those tunnel fires in Europe… The stuff isn’t exactly risk free. All it takes is ‘enough’ heat and some air.

    And it wasn’t just the Pinto. There were also some pickups with ‘side saddle’ gas tanks that were prone to “explosive combustion” on side impacts. Load of lawsuits over the BBQ deaths in modest speed collisions (like 25 mph…) and more… GM Product, IIRC.

    So if you want safety, get a Diesel.

    (Were it up to me, almost all vehicles sold would be ‘advanced Diesels’ both for economy and for safety. We’d also be making a whole lot of zero sulphur Diesel from coal at $2 / gallon and telling OPEC we see no need for them, nor any reason to protect them with our troops… but that’s just me…)

  49. Petrossa says:

    I had a link to Chevy’s in a parking lot of a dealership going up in flames after a flood somewhere, maybe New York, but can’t find it anymore. 6 caught fire.

    What continues to amaze me why oh why do they make hybrids? Why not just diesel-electric. Proven technology, no need for expensive heavy batteries, the advantages of the high torque electric motors, and the advantages of diesel which are now so clean you can suck an exhaust pipe and live to tell the tale. Sacrifice some horsepower and you can make completely silent.

    Maybe that’s just to sensible to make the grade.

  50. Petrossa says:

    Found it anyway, they weren’t chevy’s but karma’s and they were 16. So much for my memory, old age bites :-(

  51. Jason Calley says:

    @ Petrossa “Why not just diesel-electric.”

    Yes, exactly! Or alternatively, why not diesel-hydraulic? Instead of a diesel driving a generator and electric motor, use a diesel driving a hydraulic pump and a hydraulic motor. Add a high pressure reservoir for peak power demand events. I seem to remember that UPS uses a similar system on some test trucks.

  52. Petrossa says:

    I once worked a 1950’s 4 headed revolving lathe. Due to lack of parts the thing was a bit hazardous to work with. Either the microswitch didn’t trip and on of the 200 kg heads smashed into the objects, or the 75 bar hoses burst and made you run for your life.

    Hate to have that in my car :-)

  53. Speed says:

    “After an exhaustive examination of the JAL lithium-ion battery, which was comprised of eight individual cells, investigators determined that the majority of evidence from the flight data recorder and both thermal and mechanical damage pointed to an initiating event in a single cell. That cell showed multiple signs of short circuiting, leading to a thermal runaway condition, which then cascaded to other cells. Charred battery components indicated that the temperature inside the battery case exceeded 500 degrees Fahrenheit.”

    “As investigators work to find the cause of the initiating short circuit, they ruled out both mechanical impact damage to the battery and external short circuiting. It was determined that signs of deformation and electrical arcing on the battery case occurred as a result of the battery malfunction and were not related to its cause.”

    “Chairman Hersman said that potential causes of the initiating short circuit currently being evaluated include battery charging, the design and construction of the battery, and the possibility of defects introduced during the manufacturing process.”

    “During the 787 certification process, Boeing studied possible failures that could occur within the battery. Those assessments included the likelihood of particular types of failures occurring, as well as the effects they could have on the battery. In tests to validate these assessments, Boeing found no evidence of cell-to-cell propagation or fire, both of which occurred in the JAL event.”

  54. adolfogiurfa says:

    Buy new batteries!

  55. Speed says:

    Aviation Week has an update on the 787 battery problem.

    “The only glimmer of good news for Boeing is the FAA’s decision to approve the start of test flights to verify the vibration and temperature environment experienced by the batteries in the forward and aft electronic/electrical equipment bays. Clearance to take this first step toward ultimately testing and certifying a modified battery and monitoring system was signaled by the FAA on Feb. 7 … ”

    Wouldn’t it be great for Boeing if they found that additional shock mounting or cooling or heating was the solution?

    As for simple solutions, commenter AircraftGuru writes …

    “This is to those who cannot understand why Boeing just cannot fit an older and tested NiCad battery and fly the aircraft ASAP. That is possible in any other industry or home. Unfortunately in aviation nothing is that easy, though I am sure Boeing design office will be working on alternate battery also. When you change / modify a critical item on the aircraft, the original type certificate for the aircraft given by FAA becomes invalid. Boeing will have to go through the entire re-certification process, like going to the hottest places, coldest places on this planet and carryout several hours of test flights to satisfy FAA. This can take 3-4 months. In current scenario when FAA themselves are under the scanner, they will not agree for any short cuts. After that Boeing will have to retrofit 50 delivered and another 50 ready for delivery aircraft. It is a nightmare situation. Boeing is just hoping that during these flight tests, they will find fault some where else in the system, which can be corrected at a minimal cost and in quick time. Let us hope they succeed.”

  56. Speed says:

    FlightGlobal has further information about 787 test flights …

    “A Boeing 787 today completed the first flight test to study the in-flight performance of the lithium-ion batteries that have kept the fleet grounded for nearly one month.

    The test aircraft ZA005 landed after a nearly 2h21min flight that spanned nearly 1,480km (794nm) and ranged from the southwest corner of Washington state to over the Puget Sound.

    Boeing’s original flight plan proposed only a 2h flight, but it was extended late in the sortie.”

    For those wishing to follow at home, the 787 test flights are identified as BOE5 and are tracked at FlightAware.

    A second test flight is currently in progress.

  57. E.M.Smith says:


    There is a reason almost all rail in the USA is “Diesel Electric”…. and you spotted it. Great low end torque / starting and great high end efficiency.

    Batteries? Batteries? We don’t need no steeenking batteries!!

    (Though in truth, a regenerative braking system with just enough battery to capture and reuse the braking energy is an advantage… which is really all that some “hybrids” do…)

    Golly! $1.6 Million of Karma’s “up in smoke” from getting wet… Avoid deep puddles! ;-)

    @Jason Calley:

    Many (most?) heavy dirt equipment is Diesel / Hydraulic. The “problems” are mostly cost and efficiency. It isn’t cheap to do 5,000 psi precision machinery and hydraulic pumping losses are very real. It is hard to beat the efficiency of a straight metal shaft rotating… Which is why pretty much all long haul trucking is ‘straight Diesel’…. They don’t need the very prolonged ‘near stall’ start up torque of a train engine… and run a lot at constant speed anyway, so “a lot of gears” is as good as an electric ‘transmission’ and cheaper too…


    Not sufficient. They can’t change the type without a long re-certification. They can’t just put in new of the same type without identifying a ‘root cause’.


    Looking remarkably like the scenario predicted by the maker of the Tesla. (His proposed solution was more smaller cells and a more isolating package to prevent cell to cell propagation … but that would likely take a re-cert too…)

    I think it will turn out to not be a simple fix via vibration control, but hope it is…

  58. adolfogiurfa says:

    Root cause?….”Global warming”-sustainability- hybrid cars – hybrid planes- Al Gore?

  59. Speed says:

    “[GE] engineers are designing a hybrid diesel-electric locomotive that will capture the energy dissipated during braking and store it in batteries. The energy can then be reused by the crew on demand, reducing fuel consumption by as much as 15% and emissions by as much as 50% compared to most freight locomotives in use today.”

    “Hybrid vehicles are a key part of UPS’s sustainable future. UPS has purchased 130 hybrid electric delivery trucks this year (HEVs) to add to its current HEV fleet of 250.
    [ … ]
    The UPS alternative fuel fleet currently includes more than 2,022 trucks powered by compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, propane and electricity. UPS also has been testing hydraulic hybrid technology in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency and others. Since 2000, the UPS green fleet has traveled 185 million miles making deliveries around the world.”

    “Eaton is global leader in the development and manufacturing of complete hybrid power systems for commercial vehicles.
    [ … ]
    A hybrid is defined as a vehicle that uses two or more distinct power sources to move. To create a hybrid commercial vehicle, Eaton combines a vehicle’s traditional internal combustion engine with an electric motor or a hydraulic launch assist system to move the vehicle forward and then through regenerative braking the system recharges itself.

    Eaton’s hybrid power systems provide their greatest value in commercial vehicles that burn tremendous amounts of fuel by stopping and starting and trucks and buses that idle at work sites to run accessories or tools.”

    “HybriDrive® Series – The world’s most successful series hybrid electric propulsion system for transit bus.”

    Tomorrow is garbage day. Two separate trucks (one for garbage and one for recyclables — for much of the year there is a third for “yard waste”) will travel down the street alternating between maximum acceleration and maximum braking. If there was ever a vehicle that could use regenerative braking, a garbage truck is it.

  60. Speed says:

    And since locomotives were mentioned above, I’ll include some locomotive lore that may interest readers.

    The Development in Direct Coal-Fired Gas Turbines for Locomotive Application

    The coal-fired gas turbine locomotive – A new look

    What fuel did GE’s Turbines use?

    General Electric produced several species of gas-turbines, as did Baldwin.

  61. Petrossa says:

    EM Smith
    There are buses driving around with flywheel to recapture braking energy. Weigh also but at less then batteries and they are pretty small due to high rev’s.

  62. E.M.Smith says:


    There are two energy storage system that I think have some real potential. One is highly compressed air. The other is the ‘ultra flywheel’. I’d expected them to be showing up in cars by now. The flywheels have two issues. 1) Not liking to change direction. (Ganging two of them together rotating in opposite directions helps, but has high forces between them. Alternatively, you leave them gimbaled and put energy in / out with mag fields…) 2) Tend to explosively disassemble in some cases… The compressed air works really well, with one small problem and one large. The small problem is the expense of making very high pressure compressors. The bigger problem is how not to lose the energy in the heat from compression…

    At any rate, I’d expected more by now.


    Nice list. I thought the turbine locomotives had problems with the turbines breaking up due to vibration loading issues… or maybe that was the very old first ones…

  63. Petrossa says:

    Problem with pressurized air is the noise. And as with flywheels catastrophic failure is an option. You might in the long run be better off with just magnetic braking and forget about recapture in consumer vehicles. The energy recaptured versus the complex systems needed/weight/space (with fail potential) might just balance out.
    For lorries and such it would be a big difference however.

  64. Speed says:

    E.M.Smith wrote, ” I thought the turbine locomotives had problems with the turbines breaking up due to vibration loading issues … ”
    I’ve read that the turbines had to be cooled before they stopped turning to prevent a shaft from sagging (permanently) and becoming unbalanced. From memory, there was a diesel engine that kept the turbine spinning until it cooled. Now they’re using turbines to blow snow off the tracks.

    “The LIRR has prepared its fleet of snow fighting equipment with full preventative maintenance servicing and functional testing. The fleet consists of nine jet snow blowers, three cold-air snow blowers and two double-ended snow broom/thrower machines. All of this equipment is strategically pre-positioned throughout the system and at the ready. Brand new to the LIRR’s snow fighting equipment this year is: a dual purpose track machine – the ballast regulator/snow fighter – designed for removal of snow on our main track and in yards; three new jet snow blowers to replace some 40-year-old jet snow blowers; and the replacement of the turbine engine on the LIRR’s road and rail capable jet snow blower.”

    I found it remarkable and surprising that they were powering these things with coal — not making steam but actually driving the turbine. Hardly the nice clean fuel we use in turbines today. Later they used bunker C partly because there was lots available after the WWII demand ended and partly because one of the railroads (UP from memory) owned a lot of it.

    Rails and Gas Turbines
    (includes an interesting video)

  65. adolfogiurfa says:

    Why not having hybrid politicians/public servants which could not dispute or doubt their electorate´s orders. It would be by far more efficient and “sustainable”….kind of “political drones”?
    In any case, if their batteries happen to be wrong…they just would burn up :-)

  66. Speed says:

    “European plane maker Airbus is dropping lithium-ion batteries from its newest jet due to concerns that regulatory uncertainty could delay initial deliveries of A350 aircraft, according to industry officials familiar with the details.”
    [ … ]
    “The decision to jettison lithium technology, according to these officials, was prompted primarily by schedule rather than safety considerations. Airbus still intends to start testing the A350 in the air with lithium-ion batteries aboard, since that configuration is ready to start the early flights. That indicates the plane maker’s belief that its battery design is safe, since Airbus personnel will be conducting the tests.”

  67. Speed says:

    “As Boeing’s 787 enters the second month of its fleet-wide grounding, the U.S. airframer is poring over data collected on a series of flight and ground tests and says it is making “good progress” toward a solution.”

    “The fix, at least in the short term, continues to be focused on improving containment of the aircraft’s two existing lithium-ion batteries and adding more temperature monitors to provide earlier warning of abnormal battery performance via the engine indicating and crew alerting system.”
    [ … ]
    “As the investigation continues to narrow down the apparent cause to the internal workings of the battery, rather than the associated charging or control systems, it is still unclear whether the FAA will accept an interim configuration designed to mitigate and contain a failure condition that may well recur in service.”

    “Confirmation that the focus is shifting to internal failures came this week when the NTSB acknowledged it is investigating possible links to the formation of small build-ups known as dendrites.”

    Short term solution, build a better battery box.
    Long term solution, build a better battery.

  68. E.M.Smith says:


    I’d rather a “medium term solution” of test / qualify with good old Nickle batteries. We’re talking about a weight penalty about like a couple of folks luggage…

    I know, they’ll never do that. Even Airbus is likely to keep pushing on the Lithium front… (Hey, it’s been a while since we had horror stories of laptops bursting into flames, so it must be a fixed problem now, right? ;-)

    Or: “Cutting Edge” is not something I want near my throat nor holding me 30,000 feet in the sky…

  69. crosspatch says:

    Airbus just announced they are eliminating all lithium ion batteries from their A350 and going to nicad.

  70. Petrossa says:

    Well that solved the lithium problem :)

  71. Speed says:

    I wrote above, “Short term solution, build a better battery box.”

    Boeing To Present 787 Fix Proposal To FAA
    Boeing’s bid for approval, which is based on developing a sturdy containment system and additional sensors …

  72. Speed says:

    It’s interesting that the best source of technical information on the 787 battery problem this morning this Wall Street Journal article …
    Boeing to Propose Package of 787 Battery Fixes to FAA

    Senior Boeing executives are scheduled to meet with top officials from the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington to discuss the proposed 10-point package, emphasizing changes to the guts of the plane’s lithium-ion batteries along with a new protective fireproof container, these people said.

  73. Speed says:

    For the record …

    “Tonight during a live webcast from Japan, which you can watch a replay of here, we unveiled the specifics of our permanent solution to the 787 battery issue. That solution is the result of a detailed and rigorous process involving people from around the globe who put in thousands of hours of work—and we’re very confident this solution is the right one.”

    “Through another test, the team demonstrated that fire cannot occur within the new enclosure.”

    “Cannot” is a strong word.

  74. E.M.Smith says:

    Looks like they did everything possible short of changing the cell chemistry to non-lithium.

    Whole battery in a stainless steel can vented to the outside.

    I can see how they think it will be self-inerting (as vented ‘stuff’ displaces any air from the steel can) but they have also increased insulation; so heat build up in the battery could be worse. (Perhaps part of why the charger is being more gentle about charge rates).

    I think they will still end up with cell failures and that swapping batteries will be a lifelong habit with the plane. (Rather like with laptop batteries…)

    Personally, I’d have stuck with Nickle batteries.
    (Nickle now wrapping this one in a stainless steel wrapper… )

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