Boeing 787 batteries ablaze aloft: Lithium-ion battery fire risk grounds aircraft

All news clippings are from early Thursday, January 17, 2013.

From NPR, the FAA is grounding 787s because of battery problems:

The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered the U.S. fleet of Boeing 787 planes to be grounded, citing an incident in Japan earlier today in which one of the jet's batteries emitted smoke. The Japanese report came a week after a similar incident occurred in Boston.

What kinds of problems? Not just smoke, but hot chemicals, according to the Seattle Times:

Hot chemicals sprayed out of the battery on the 787 Dreamliner in this week’s emergency landing in Japan, leaving a gooey dark residue and suggesting a different malfunction than last week’s 787 battery fire in Boston, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.

BBC gives the detail in a timeline:

15 January: ANA flight NH 692 from Yamaguchi Ube is forced to land shortly after take-off due to battery problems. The airline grounds all its 17 Dreamliners. Japan Airlines follows suit, grounding its fleet of seven 787s

and more detail from the San Jose airport, which has flights affected by the cancellations:

Statement from ANA released 1/16/13:
ANA flight NH 692 from Yamaguchi Ube to Haneda made an emergency landing at Takamatsu
Airport at 8.47am on Wednesday, 16 January due to a technical problem. The aircraft’s
instruments registered a problem related to a battery and crew also detected an unusual smell in
the cabin and the cockpit. All 137 passengers and crew were evacuated from the aircraft. The
event was registered as a serious incident by Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and
Tourism (MLIT). ANA will cooperate fully with the Japan Transport Safety Board, relevant
authorities, and Boeing to investigate the cause of the incident. All ANA flights operated by
Boeing 787 have been cancelled on 16 January 2013.
January 16, 2013
All Nippon Airways, Co., Ltd.

Reuters notes that GS Yuasa makes the battery, and its stock took a hit. Reuters via Chicago Tribune:

TOKYO (Reuters) – Shares of GS Yuasa Corp shed 5.9 percent to 302 yen on Thursday after All Nippon Airways Co Ltd said the main battery on the Boeing's 787 Dreamliner that made an emergency landing on Wednesday was discolored and there were signs of leakage.

In happier times, here was the press release about the Lithium ion batteries from GS Yuasa:

June 12, 2005, Thales will incorporate the latest lithium-ion technology from Japan’s leading battery manufacturer, GS Yuasa, in the Electrical Power Conversion System of Boeing’s next generation commercial airliner, the 787 Dreamliner. The multi-year, multi-million dollar contract is a historic first as it marks the first commercial aviation application of Li-ion technology anywhere in the world.

And, after a bunch of digging, here's a really good analysis of The Dreamliner's Battery Fire, by Paul Bertorelli on AVweb. Worth reading through the whole thing for an insight into why this is a big issue for Boeing. Emphasis added.

This is serious stuff for Boeing and could put a significant dent in the airplane's certification basis if they can't figure out a solution. When Boeing proposed the Dreamliner a decade ago, it spec'd lithium-ion batteries for the airplane's innovative electrical power conversion system, which is made by Thales, with batteries from Yuasa. The airplane can also use conventional NiCad cells but either way, batteries provide starting energy for the APU and back-up power for other systems. At the time, the hazards of Li-ion were known, but Boeing wanted the weight savings and power density that only Li-ion can offer. Working with the FAA, it developed new certification standards for batteries under so-called special conditions. That required sophisticated electronics to provide overcharge and charge imbalance protection and physical thermal containment. Taken together and on paper, those precautions look more than robust enough to meet the stringent safety requirements of a modern airliner.

Well, maybe not. When I was researching Li-ion batteries for aircraft last year, I heard real concerns that the Li-ion main ship/starting battery risk wasn't yet well understood. 

Related articles

Boeing 787 Dreamliner Fleet Grounded by U.S. After Emergency – Bloomberg
FAA grounds all US Boeing 787 Dreamliners after second lithium ion battery failure
FAA Statement: Boeing 787 Dreamliner Grounded, For Now
ANA and JAL Ground Boeing 787 Fleets After Emergency
FAA Grounds All 787 Planes In The U.S. To Seek A Fix For Battery Issue

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