Robert Pogson

One man, closing all the windows.

Lithium Ion Batteries in Boeing’s Dreamliner Didn’t Scale Well

  • Jan 18 / 2013
  • 3
technology

Lithium Ion Batteries in Boeing’s Dreamliner Didn’t Scale Well

Lithium ion batteries pack a very high energy density and when things go wrong a fire or explosion is the result. Tiny batteries are cooled by conduction to their surfaces in contact with other inert material. We have seen that go wrong on notebook PCs. Larger batteries have a lower surface/volume ratio making heating/cooling more critical.

Of course, Boeing wanted that high energy to weight/volume characteristic to increase the efficiency of the planes but they may have gone too far…

“The batteries at the heart of the problem, manufactured by the Japanese firm GS Yuasa Corporation, are essentially giant versions of the lithium-ion batteries used in cell phones and laptops. Like those batteries, the Dreamliner’s use a lithium-cobalt oxide cathode, which is "an inherently unsafe cathode," said Mark Allen, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. And in the larger form used by Boeing, they pose an even larger risk. When overcharged or damaged, they can become essentially a firebomb inside the airplane—one that burns without air and can’t be put out by usual aircraft fire suppression systems.

see Boeing’s Dreamliner batteries “inherently unsafe”—and yours may be too | Ars Technica.

3 Comments

  1. George Hostler

    ioaohm states, “George Hostler and Robert Pogson do some homework. Lithium Ion Batteries don’t have to equal I want to kill you batteries. [...] George Hostler anyone who read the basics about the chemical problems with lithium-cobalt oxide cathode would ask what in heck where they doing on the aircraft in the first place. [...] George Hostler the issues of Cobalt batteries are well known.”

    oiaohm, I think you were reading into what I was saying and not what I was saying. For one, the news media is not always 100% correct, and so I reserve judgment on this premise. Also, I based my comments on the news article Robert referred to, which stated the batteries were lithium-cobalt type, of the same or similar types used in smaller electronic devices like laptops and cellphones, which have been known to catch fire.

    So, I am not sure why you are referring to me as though I somehow missed something. Please re-read what I stated, because in context I was referring to aircraft and human life safety, and alluding to a poor choice in selecting temporary electric storage power technology. The environmental reasons you gave are tangential to the topic of discussion, remember the subject being discussed was Lithium Ion Batteries in Boeing’s Dreamliner Didn’t Scale Well.

    Thank you in advance, George

  2. oiaohm

    George Hostler and Robert Pogson do some homework. Lithium Ion Batteries don’t have to equal I want to kill you batteries.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_iron_phosphate_battery

    Some laptops use Lithium Iron Phosphate Batteries as well.

    Also the video in that link has a engineer talking down the problem. The problem with lithium cobalt batteries is once they are exposed to enough heat they don’t need air any more. Instead they become equal to raw explosive. Reason the cobalt oxide inside the battery breaks down so inside the battery cell O2 is now released to react with the lithium. Yes its now a lithium bomb not a battery. No seal can hold this. Worse the heat from one exploding cell of lithium cobalt can send other cells near it into release 02 so you now have a nice explosive chain reaction.

    Comparing Lithium Cobalt to car fuel is foolish. Car fuel does not normally contain oxide agent(if it does something is wrong). Lithium Cobalt can explode in environments lacking air completely once they over heat. Yes inside the battery if the seals don’t break contains every chemical required for explosion.

    There have been people insane enough to experiment with normal car fuel + adding an oxide that release O2 when exposed to heat. Yes this can improve the power of the fuel and fuel effectiveness massive. Issue is that just like Lithium Cobalt risks blowing up like explosive the fuel tank risks going up like explosive.

    Basically we don’t do unstable oxides in car and truck fuels in cars so why in heck do we have unstable oxides in batteries when we don’t have to particular on things like aircraft.

    Yes there are unstable oxides you can mix into car and truck fuels to make them more powerful at a price of risking blowing everything up.

    George Hostler anyone who read the basics about the chemical problems with lithium-cobalt oxide cathode would ask what in heck where they doing on the aircraft in the first place.

    Lithium iron phosphate battery is safe. Iron was used to replace the cobalt for lots of applications because the cobalt form cannot be trusted. The cobalt form is a disposal problem because its toxic. Yes gets better right. The fumes from a burning or exploding Lithium cobalt are a problem. Result is free cobalt in air.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cobalt_poisoning

    We don’t allow people flying aircraft to be drunk. But we allow batteries on the aircraft that if gas from them get into cockpit can generate the same effect.

    Cobalt is just one of the elements you should not find in aircraft.

    George Hostler the issues of Cobalt batteries are well known. Cobalt can be insanely cheep from places with nuclear power plants. Yes waste product. Yes its cheaper than using iron equal as well as lighter.

    The issue I have is who was the insane person to recommend doing this with the amount of detail we have on the battery type recommending against using it.

  3. George Hostler

    Traditional battery technology used in aircraft are relatively heavy devices. The desire to lose weight within the aircraft means potential additional cargo weight carrying capacity in the aircraft. The aircraft business is highly competitive and the more the airlines can potentially make financially the better position the manufacturer.

    Something went wrong to cause those batteries to “cook”. They are very sensitive to charging currents requiring sophisticated power supplies. They are also sensitive when damaged.

    At this point, until all the investigations are completed, we won’t know for sure. Looks like in this case Boeing may have possibly erred by taking a gamble on the technology, or it is possible someone did not follow Boeing’s technical orders in installing / servicing the batteries, or somehow they became damaged by whatever means.

Leave a comment