Boeing’s Problems with Lithium-Ion Batteries illustrates the problem of the All-Electric Car

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 24th, 2013

Week in Review

The greatest cost of all airlines is fuel.  Airplanes that burn less fuel make airlines more money.  And help airlines go from losing money to making a profit.  Aircraft are complex machines.  Full of high-tech stuff.  But one of the best ways to burn less fuel is not all that high-tech.  You just make planes lighter.  One of the ways of doing that, though, is very high-tech.  The new lithium-ion battery.  Which packs a whole lot of energy in a tiny package.  Allowing Boeing to make their Dreamliner just a little bit lighter.  Allowing it to burn less fuel (see Japan Finds Swelling in Second Boeing 787 Battery by Mari Saito, REUTERS, posted 2/19/2013 on the New York Times).

Cells in a second lithium-ion battery on a Boeing Co 787 Dreamliner forced to make an emergency landing in Japan last month showed slight swelling, a Japan Transport Safety Board (JTSB) official said on Tuesday.

The jet, flown by All Nippon Airways Co, was forced to make the landing after its main battery failed…

The U.S. Federal Aviation Authority grounded all 50 Boeing Dreamliners in commercial service on January 16 after the incidents with the two Japanese owned 787 jets.

The groundings have cost airlines tens of millions of dollars, with no solution yet in sight.

Boeing rival Airbus said last week it had abandoned plans to use lithium-ion batteries in its next passenger jet, the A350, in favor of traditional nickel-cadmium batteries.

Lighter and more powerful than conventional batteries, lithium-ion power packs have been in consumer products such as phones and laptops for years but are relatively new in industrial applications, including back-up batteries for electrical systems in jets.

As it turns out it can be a little risky packing a whole lot of energy into tiny packages.  It may make batteries lighter.  But it’s like putting a tiger in a box.  If it isn’t a good box it’s not going to restrain that tiger.  And that’s what sort of has been happening with lithium-ion batteries.  People who bought discount replacement cell phone batteries saw those cheap knockoffs burst into flames.

Lithium-ion batteries have a tendency to burst into flames if they are overcharged.  This is the risk of using concentrated energy.  It’s why they grounded the entire fleet of Boeing Dreamliners.  And it’s why the all-electric car is not practical.  The one battery that gives it a useful range can be a little temperamental.  Like a tiger in a box.

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