Electronics & Test
Were the Boeing 787 Batteries Cooled Properly?

An NTSB engineer examines the casing from the battery involved in the JAL Boeing 787 flight in Boston.   (Source: NTSB)
An NTSB engineer examines the casing from the battery involved in the JAL Boeing 787 flight in Boston.
(Source: NTSB)

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Nancy Golden
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Cooling System
Nancy Golden   1/25/2013 7:34:07 PM
The lack of a cooling system would be very puzzling. According to a friend of mine who is a battery guy, lithium ion batteries are the highest energy density and are one of the most volatile chemistries, so correct charging and cooling are of paramount importance.

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Design Decisions
williamlweaver   1/26/2013 8:57:06 AM
Chuck, do you get a sense that perhaps Boeing moved to the cobalt oxide cathode lithium-ion batteries to shed weight and then made a decision to not include a cooling system that would have added net weight? It is feasible that this type of failure is only found after the 787 is used in process and not in testing and that Boeing can find a safe fix. Gosh, I sure hope that it does not turn out to be known, debated cost-saving management decision that turns political...

Greg M. Jung
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Re: Design Decisions
Greg M. Jung   1/27/2013 11:48:44 AM
Good point William.  I wonder if the energy density of the lithium-ion battery system with an additional cooling system would now be less-favorable than the energy density of the traditional/proven battery technology (without the additonal cooling system).

Ken E.
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Cooling 'built in'?
Ken E.   1/28/2013 9:32:06 AM
It's possible the cooling was 'built-in', i.e. the design current draw and subsiquent heat load was lower than the thermal capacity of the unit as installed. That's how zillions of the small and ubiquitous lithium batteries consumers use every day work.  It'll be interesting to see how this story plays out.  Certainly some mistake was made somewhere, but we seem to be jumping to conclusions

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Re: Design Decisions
YJ77   1/28/2013 9:37:06 AM
Boeing will suffer politically, regardless of the decisions they make now.  Their best option is to have a replacement strategy defined and a timeline for implementation & FAA approval before the end of this week.  Any more delay will cripple their Dreamliner, giving the A380 a huge advantage. 

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Re: Cooling System
Battar   1/28/2013 9:37:09 AM
Not so puzzling. Before you design in a cooling system, you ask how high can you go without it. For example, if a transistor is rated with a junction temperature of 150 degrees, I would let it heat up to 100 degrees before I put a fan in. Thats a 33% margin. Cooling at sea-level is not the same as cooling at 8000ft equivalent alitude in a pressuized airliner, though.

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Re: Design Decisions
ScotCan   1/28/2013 9:43:13 AM
We're working at the grass roots level with lithium systems in E-Scooters and we're having our problems although not quite as dramatic as Boeings. The battery management system does what it's supposed to do where temperature increases beyond a certain level opens the circuits...somewhat inconveniently after about 3 blocks of hard acceleration. Troubleshooting indicates that by disconnecting the battery, pausing, then reconnecting resets the system, and as long as a reasonable acceleration is the input the system works continuously. As soon as a higher torque (hence amperage increase) is applied to the drive system over a certain length of time the system cuts out. Our solution to this irritation is in work consisting of a hybrid battery system using lead acid for acceleration and lithium for cruise, the controller being rigged to accomodate the changes. Boeing's solution may be the same in the long run...cooling systems are just another aggravation, but hybrid battery systems rigged through a reliable controller may be slightly heavier but likely not as heavy as a cooling system and have the advantage of no dead weight (all batteries being functional)


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Re: Design Decisions
ChasChas   1/28/2013 9:49:51 AM
Since we are all in the guessing mode, I'll guess too.

The weight savings was a big temptation so they calculated the risks and made a decision to go with this battery.

The surprise came in real life when the battery ended up working much harder than anticipated. Accessories?, add-ons?, custom build? (Sales says yes, yes, yes, and the original engineer isn't even in the picture.)

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Re: Cooling 'built in'?
l_jhanson   1/28/2013 9:52:10 AM
The division I worked for several years ago had a similar Lithium-ion battery 'thermal event' on a much smaller scale in a consumer market portable radio... We did not experience any fire, but there certainly was sufficient energy released to create a lot of smoke and reduce the radio to a bubbling mass of melted plastic. The cause seemed to be a short resulting from insulating materials being capable of sliding with vibration... The entire experience was perplexing...the experts were telling us it couldn't happen, yet it was!

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Re: Design Decisions
Toaster   1/28/2013 10:37:08 AM
I was a Boeing Engineer for a while and I worked on the 767 and 777 projects. I know something about Boeing. Yes, weight savings is very important. BUT SAFETY is the highest priority. So high, in fact that no technology is used that has not been thoroughly tested and confirmed to be safe. I really don't understand why this is happening, (and I will not guess, as I am an ME) we will find out eventually. Oh and yes, "The original Engineer isn't even in the picture" is somewhat true. Once an engineering design is completed by "The original Engineer" The design is circulated through all the engineering departments for their blessing, and modification (if any) before it is allowed to be installed in an airplane.  The design may or may not look like the original after everyone has gotten their hands on it.


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