Electronics & Test
Lithium-Ion Batteries Emerge as Possible Culprit in Dreamliner Incidents

Auxiliary power batteries onboard a Japan Airlines Dreamliner 787 caught fire at Boston's Logan Airport on January 7. The battery was taken back to the National Transportation Safety Board's Materials Laboratory in Washington for further examination.   (Source: NTSB)
Auxiliary power batteries onboard a Japan Airlines Dreamliner 787 caught fire at Boston's Logan Airport on January 7. The battery was taken back to the National Transportation Safety Board's Materials Laboratory in Washington for further examination.
(Source: NTSB)

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Ken E.
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Re: Cooling at 30,000 ft.?
Ken E.   1/18/2013 10:08:16 AM
SystemsGuy, my understanding is that this battery came into play only on the ground, i.e. something to do with landing gear controls or something.  So high altitude cold air doesn't help that situation much.

In any case, flight controls probably get their biggest workout getting to altitude or landing, all lower altitude issues, and must be designed for the worst case.

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Charging system
DJP   1/18/2013 10:18:00 AM
Overcharging is well known to cause overheating. The charging system and overheating protection system need to wwork to prevent this. Apparently this has not been completely effective. I would look carefully at the charging system to see what unusual conditions may exist. Perhaps the intense cold in the exterior environment could trick the charging system into overcharging.

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Re: What type of lithium ion batteries?
bdcst   1/18/2013 10:42:38 AM
I find it ironic that the 787 uses high capacity Lithium Ion batteries for its standby/startup power when such batteries onboard as cargo have had severe restrictions placed upon them in the past.  For example UPS considers batteries with a watt/hour capacity greater than 20 but less than 100 to be shippable but only when handled as hazardous material.  Anything above 100 Wh is not shippable by air according to UPS.  This for a disconnected, not in service battery!

The IATA bans cargo shipments of primary cell Lithium Metal batteries from all passenger planes.  Obviously, the button cell in your wristwatch is okay as long as it isn't part of a cargo shipment.

The IATA regulation of 100 Wh or less for secondary Lithium Ion batteries has been the limiting factor for available run time for professional video cameras.


Paul Murk
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Lithium-Ion Batteries , Second look!
Paul Murk   1/18/2013 10:57:16 AM
At first all the failures may look unrelated due to the fact they all perform different functions on the Airbus.

But before a general comment can be made as in the article, as an engineer, I would investigate the specifications requirements from all these peice parts and check in- fact they have been enviromentaly accepted for high altitude low atmospheric pressure, Vibration of  jet engine frequency and air turbulance of sympathetic oscillations, and extreme temperature changes mostly cold temps.

Now if we take all these into effects, I bet we might find a common thread. It cost $$$ for screens like this and BOEING could have cut cost by using "COTS" of the shelf items.

The Lithium batteries were once not allowed on board plane in laptops because of inherient design issues that caused a possible fire. What has changed with Lithium batteries to make them safe???

Someone in BOEING is an Engineer of poor judgement....Not the structure of the aircraft but selected components not purchased properly for the job is whats at fault.

I bought a Cadillac and the dealer gives me a Chevrolet...get my point


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warren@fourward.com   1/18/2013 11:00:20 AM
How often we recommend that you always make one change at a a time in anything new. Boeing changed so many things at once it is remarkable the plane flew at all! I'm a big Boeing fan, but me thinks your bite was too big for thy mouth...

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Re: Cooling at 30,000 ft.?
NRDW   1/18/2013 11:57:26 AM
Actually -60 degree F temperatures might be part of the cause - lithium ion batteries don't like really large temperature swings

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Interesting subject.
ervin0072002   1/18/2013 1:00:58 PM
It's difficult to find what the fault is on a problem like this. These projects have extensive testing (i am an aviation test engineer). It could have been many things that lead to this issue. (Might not even be related with the battery at all). It's a very large system with many components and the battery is the weak link. I am confident that FAA and Boeing will find a solution and this plane will fly again. Let's not jump to conclusions and let's wait on an official announcement from FAA or Boeing.

I am not associated with FAA or Boeing. It's a marvel that these metal birds can fly. This happens all thanks to companies like Boeing.

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Re: Lithium-Ion Batteries , Second look!
Amclaussen   1/18/2013 1:02:27 PM
Paul, even with the extremely greedy industry attitude nowadays, I doubt Boeing purchased such kind of batteries. Aviation is characterized by very high standards, but in these days, some goofes can (and doo pass).

For me it is another (of the many) cases of bad results derived from the abuse of that "modern" practice of outsourcing. Not that outsourcing per-se is bad, but the ever growing tendency of completely relying on subcontractors (that sense of "lets the supplier take care of this and forget" attitude that has its roots in so called modern administration practices, that permeate companies previously known for their reliable products.

Trying to push out a completely new design, that has many advances at the same time requires a proportionately larger and more trained workforce, so the MBA geniuses at top level decide to place an often too large share of design, integration and testing on outside subcontractors, and in theory, they instantly kill any problems! This is a world-wide tendency courtesy of latter generations of so called 'professionals' that appear to have all the credentials that (apparently), qualify them as experts. As older generations of old-fashioned engineers retire, the new ones arrive to the scene looking as disproportionately capable ones, that rely too much on software aids, simplified methods and a generalized lack of true hands-on real life experience. I seriously doubt how many of those engineers have actually seen a small Lithium battery pack as it catches fire? (One of my hobbies is Model Airplane building and flying, and there are some high temperature ceramic pots sold in the hobby market, designed precisely to contain those relatively small batt packs if they decide to ignite under charge -or storage-, for that matter!).

Regarding the general attitude towards too much confidence or reliance in a given supplier, certifying body or industry in general, I'll give you an example:

I read about two weeks ago: Daimler and Volkswagen decided to defy the European Union Jan. 1 deadline that orders the use of a new, 'ecologically friendly' refrigerant that should replace the widely used R134a, owing to the results of realistic automobile crash test performed in houseby Daimler engineers, that resulted in fires, even when the DuPont-Honeywell new refrigerant has been enthusiastically promoted as a "safe" and much more "green" substitute for R134a. The fact is that the same companies have promoted the new product as "only slightly flammable" (if such term is plausible). the exact phrase said "It is well known that HFO-1234yf is a mildly flammable refrigerant," [Diane Iuliano Picho, global business manager, Opteon™ refrigerants.]

The good guys at GM quickly jumped on the bandwagon and publicly announced they swear at the product and will happily use it!

This shows that industry, suppliers, and even governmental testing bodies, all can be persuaded in a given moment to favor (or allow) the use of a new product, as it represents "innovation" (DuPont's Terrence Hahn reportedly said: "The key element for the EU government is forcing the implementation of their rule," said Terrence Hahn, general manager of the U.S. company's fluorine products unit. "If you are not doing that, you are going to severely dampen innovation..."

In the B-787 case, over relying on the supplier for the battery system for everything, is like relying on the publicity published by the freon replacement manufacturer in order to declare the system "safe". In the refrigerant case, it is curious that the Daimler engineers were able to produce a crash fire when several others weren't. I applaud them, and applaud both Daimler and Volkswagen for defying the dumb politicians of the EU, the same people that gave us the ban on leaded solder and other measures that fit well the "Law of uninntended consequences".

It is not difficult to perform an illustrating experiment: take a little cooking oil, placed into a cup it is hadly flammable, but put into an old parfume sprayer, press the rubber bulb and the same oil ignites with incredible violence. I doubt some self appointed experts have actually performed this simple experiment.  No amount of wishful thinking or babying will bend the laws of physics (or chemistry). There is no substitute for experience.  Amclaussen.



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Re: Interesting subject, but...
Amclaussen   1/18/2013 1:39:18 PM
Absolutely! but sometimes people, not withstanding how competent or well trained, perform incredibly simple (as an after though) errors.  All aeronautical companies do, from time to time, execute some grave ones. Remember the control valve on the Rudder Control Unit of the B-737...  Or the software glitches of the A-320...  or the uncommmanded thrust reverser openings on the Fokker-100.  In a large number of these catastrophic failures there is an identifiable dose of incomplete testing.  The Wright Brothers were 1) very knowledgeable and, 2) fully committed to testing, so that they were able to survive for quite a few years. Blind faith or 'confidence' should not be in the vocabulary of an aviation expert, my two cents.  Amclaussen.

G D Bryan
User Rank
Re Lithium Ion Batteries solution
G D Bryan   1/18/2013 1:58:36 PM
As an experience evaluation engineer, I can see some omitions in Boeings

evaluation processes:

1)  How much environmental testing did they do with the batteries before they

     put them into the plane.  That does not include vendor claims of evaluation

     and testing.  You can't always trust vendors to be honest.

2)  Were the batteries tested at max load or in a short circuit mode.   They should

     have been and under no possible conditions should the batteries ever burn

     or go into a catastrophic failure mode without a considerable warning with

     sufficient time to find a landing field and get a plane out of the air if the

    performance of the batteries are essential for the safe operation of the plane.


3)  Design the batteries with sufficient internal and external protection so that

     they are virtually indestructable in the environment where they are used if

     they are going into an aircraft.  How is this done?  Current limit each major

     portion of the battery and if reverse voltage protection is needed, then

     make sure that it is there. 

4)  Design in spares that can be switched in to a module that happens to

     go into a failure mode in the air.  If multiple battery systems are in place,

     then the switching mechanism can be such that one or two spares can be

     used to back up several working units. 


5)  Test, test, test, worst case test, and if environmental limits are found to

      be required, then be damned sure that those environmental limits are

      never exceeded in flight. 


6)  Do destructive testing to be damned sure you know how much overkill you

     have designed into the system


I workd at Boeing before and their old leaders would never have allowed this

to happen.  I am pretty sure of that.  Layton Hood would roll over in his grave

if he knew this was put out without proper testing and development.  Jus

a partin shot there.


I do consult and could stand some cash in my pocket lately.  If Boeing needs

a little outside help, I may still have an employee number there.  If not, I

do cash Boeing checks and would be happy to help them get this fixed in a

timely manner.  Just give me access to an environmental chamber that goes

to about 70k feet so I can make sure we get it done right.  Then we can get

on with fixing this ASAP.

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