Wednesday, January 16, 2013

(Updated) Grounded Boeing 787 Dreamliners Use Lithium-Ion Batteries Made by a Japanese Company

(UPDATE) Nikkei Shinbun has an article that lists airlines that have received Boeing 787 Dreamliner, aka Nightmare-liner, and how many. They are not whom you may expect:

All Nippon Airways (NH, Japan): 17
Japan Airlines (JL, Japan): 7
United Airlines (UA, USA): 6
Air India (AI, India): 5
Qatar Airways, (QA, Qatar): 5
Ethiopian Airlines (ET, Ethiopia): 4
LAN Airlines (LA, Chile): 3
Polish Airlines (LO, Poland): 2

Total 49



The battery manufacturer GS Yuasa, based in Kyoto Prefecture, uses lithium cobalt oxide electrodes which are apparently prone to overheating.

From MIT Technology Review (1/16/2013):

Grounded Boeing 787 Dreamliners Use Batteries Prone to Overheating

A fire last week and a forced landing today have brought the possibility of such problems to the forefront.

By Kevin Bullis on January 16, 2013

(Image of the lithium-ion battery that caught fire on board JAL's 787)

Two major safety incidents involving Boeing 787 Dreamliners have caused two Japanese airlines to ground their fleets of the aircraft. The problems may be linked to a battery chemistry that’s particularly prone to causing fires.

Earlier today, a plane in Japan was forced to make an emergency landing after reports of a battery warning light and burning smell. Last week, a battery caught fire on a plane on the ground in Boston. In both cases, the problems may be related to Boeing’s decision to use a kind of lithium-ion battery chemistry that overheats and catches fire more readily than others.

It’s not yet clear whether the problems in the 787s originated with the batteries. Faults in the electronic controls have been implicated in other lithium-ion battery fires. According to reports, inspectors found liquid leaking from the 787’s batteries after the forced landing in Japan today. The battery was also discolored, but it wasn’t clear if it had caught fire.

...Boeing’s 787 is the first commercial aircraft to use lithium-ion batteries, according to GS Yuasa, the Japanese battery manufacturer that supplies the batteries. The company also supplies batteries for the International Space Station and electric railcars, among other applications.

The chemistry—and safety—of lithium-ion batteries varies. According to GS Yuasa’s website, the batteries it uses for Boeing’s 787 use lithium cobalt oxide electrodes. These are known for high-energy storage capacity, but other battery chemistries, such as lithium iron phosphate, are more resistant to overheating. Because of safety concerns, many electric vehicle makers have shifted to alternative chemistries, sacrificing some energy storage capacity.

...According to GS Yuasa, its battery for the 787 “comes with battery management electronics which guarantees multiple levels of safety features.” A specification sheet for the batteries warns, “Inappropriate handling or application of the cells can result in reduced cell life and performance, electrolyte leakage, high cell temperatures, and even the possibility of smoke generation and fire.”

(Full article at the link)

GS Yuasa's websites (English and Japanese) do not have any statement about the JAL or ANA incidents.


Anonymous said...

I know a bit OT, but I was wondering whether the all carbon hull of a dreamliner offers the same or a similar amount of shielding against cosmic radiation or not as the currently common hulls?

VyseLegendaire said...


Made in Japan ?

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netudiant said...

Cosmic rays are a professional hazard for pilots or anyone who spends many hours in jets. The airplane hull has no shielding power for the more energetic rays, it may in fact cause many secondary particles to be generated when a cosmic ray strikes the hull material.
The safety record of lithium batteries is not good. There have been several recent air disasters with no survivors because of in flight fires caused by lithium batteries in the cargo.
Good on Japan Air Lines for taking the lead and grounding the plane before any tragedy.
Boeing and Yuasa will have to suffer the economic consequences of this obvious product deficiency.

Ivan said...

Unfortunately, no shielding from cosmic rays. Scientists not able to do that even for long space flight. Forget about manned flight to Mars in near future.

How hard can be to make lithium battery that safely works?

Anonymous said...

Japan again ...they have themselves to blame yet again ..

Anonymous said...

Surely Boeing has specified the batteries it bought from Yuasa. Either the battery meets the spec and fails, or it does not meet the spec and fails. In both cases, Boeing is to blame, not Yuasa (even if it delivered a defective product to Boeing).

You don't blame the subcontractor, unless you're TEPCO ;)

netudiant said...

It is not so much the fault of the battery as it is of its control circuitry.
The battery is sensitive to overheating if it is not controlled properly. That is well known, so there are 4 separate control circuits to make sure it remains within the specified parameters. Reportedly, the JAL pilots got 3 separate indications of battery overheating during their takeoff run, smelled smoke and decided to make an emergency landing. This suggests that somehow, the batteries were getting overloaded. The Yuasa comment that the electronic control system would need to be evaluated seems entirely reasonable in that light.

Anonymous said...

I am an avid R/C enthusiast and I can say from experience lithium-ion chemistry can be very volatile when improperly charged, discharged or damaged. Netudiant is right lipos need a special computer controlled charging circuit that constantly measure the voltage in each battery cell to make sure they stay within a few hundredths of a volt of each other otherwise the voltage disparity can create and internal flow of current that can cause a short that could lead to a fire. When these batteries explode they can spray flaming liquid that burns like napalm because it is full of oxidizer. Many homes and vehicles have been destroyed by careless hobbyist. While the problem is rare it does happen, even though I've never had a problem I do my charging/discharging outside in an old grill. While a hobby lipo probably isn't the exact same chemistry here is huge list of hobby Lipo battery accidents.

If you youtube "exploding lipo battery" you can see what can happen when lipos get angry.

crash induced fire:

netudiant said...

Just as a follow on, the control circuitry was made by Thales, a French aesospace systems supplier.
It is suspected, but not yet proved, that the controller was built on one of a bad circuit board batch produced in Mexico in both instances.
That would be the least damaging outcome for Boeing, as it would allow the airplane to resume operations the soonest. An actual design deficiency would be much more costly. That is one of the unappreciated costs of outsourcing the details of subsystem design and production.

Anonymous said...

Cosmic radiation is at it's worse at higher altitudes and over the poles. A radiation "hit" can involve millions of electron volts and thereby easily break down the insultaive properties separating the two "poles".

The 787 is pressurized to fly at higer altitutes than any previous commercial passenger aircraft and JAL and ANA would both be flying the polar route.

It would/might only take, initially, a microscopically small short to begin a localized thermal runaway and that, in turn, might take hours to grow, spread, to a hazardous level.

Unknown said...

Lithium Invest is the lightest of all metals and is able to hold more energy per unit of weight than any other material, Lithium is already powering the mobile web boom as it ramps up. It is also now accepted that lithium will power the electric vehicle revolution, and that revolution is getting into full swing.

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