All 787 Dreamliners Grounded Over Melting Battery Concerns

Illustration for article titled All 787 Dreamliners Grounded Over Melting Battery Concerns

All of the operational Boeing 787 Dreamliners in the world—50 of 'em—are now sitting on runways being prodded by men with clipboards, after a series of safety niggles caused worries for air authorities and triggered a global grounding.


The high-tech airliner has a surprisingly low-tech Achilles' heel - its battery. The current wave of safety concerns centre around the 787′s lithium-ion power cells, which have triggered two serious fire concerns in the last couple of weeks, one leading to an emergency landing and evacuation in Japan.

As anyone who's disinterestedly scrolled through a tech site in the last few years will know, modern li-ion batteries have been seen to explode and catch fire on the odd occasion. When that happens to a phone it's a bit of a pain. Were it to happen in the belly of an aeroplane at 30,000 feet over the Atlantic, it'd cause slightly larger problems. [BBC]

Illustration for article titled All 787 Dreamliners Grounded Over Melting Battery Concerns

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The decision to use Lithium Ion batteries in the 787 was controversial to begin with. The FAA had to make a special exception to allow it in the first place. I understand that the chemistry they picked has the highest energy density... but this high energy chemistry has some disadvantages too. (Like fire.) This type of battery fire is usually caused more by high charging & discharging rates. I suspect the solution would be use a larger battery that can withstand higher charging & discharging rates... Or use a more conservative chemistry like lithium phosphate. Alternatives like lithium phosphate have lower energy density but they don't catch fire easily and they withstand far more charge cycles. The down side to lithium phosphate batteries is that they weigh a lot more for the same power output. Boeing may have to sacrifice some weight to fix this issue permanently. Perhaps the aircraft industry is not quite ready for lithium ion batteries yet.