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Lithium batteries in 787 may pose fire issues

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Registered: May 2009
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Jeroen Hoppenbrouwers wrote
How much money do they bleed every day?


An interesting question. They've already sunk huge amounts of money getting the 787 to its current non-flying status. If and when it resumes flight status, it will slowly pay back those sunk costs and (hopefully) begin making steady net profits some years from now. There are also interest payments on the loans involved. Too complex for my non-financial brain, and only limited data are available for such calculations anyway. It must be very stressful on the many global suppliers, too, as they presumably can't make money until shipments resume.

The NY Times has yet another update today, this one with some more details re the testing procedures and hints of the FAA's involvement, etc. Also, there is an interesting 3-D reconstruction from a CT scan of the battery:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/business/initial-tests-of-battery-by-boeing-fell-short.html?ref=todayspaper&pagewanted=all
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Phil Bunch
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http://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/B788,_Boston_MA_USA,_2013_%28FIRE_AW%29
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Phil Bunch
« Last edit by Phil Bunch on Sat, 16 Mar 2013 15:15:00 +0000. »
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I bet Airbus is doing both NiCd and Li-Ion batteries in parallel, and has been doing this for quite a while. Just to be sure.


Jeroen
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Registered: Jul 2012
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The NTSB sent a formal letter to Boeing complaining about their latest press conference in Japan. In Japan Boeing had claimed there was no fire at all while the NTSB has not decided yet and Boeing publicly announced to be expecting some permit to fly again within weeks.

http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2020614479_ntsbrebukexml.html
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I hope we won't see the time that development of any aircraft turns out to be, by definition, a gamble 'to bet the farm' and/or that research & development simply will halt due to insurmountable costs or uninsurable risks (which is actually the same as insurmountable costs).

On the other hand, it may lead to abandoning the competitive model, where only the bottom line counts and investors run away for unpolished risk/benefit ratios. It may be that cooperative models will eventually come up, where fair prices are paid for development work, but there is no overall profit to be made. Something like public transport; I know very few places where the public transport system is self-sufficient, yet most people agree that it is worth the taxpayer's money. Maybe developing aircraft (and microprocessors) is getting too complex to remain competitive, as the whole world's market (100% share) is needed to recover the costs?


Jeroen
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Registered: Jul 2012
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Cost might not be that much of a factor when modifying the 787's battery system. What is expensive is letting their aircraft inventory stand idle at Everett. Maybe double digit billion incomes parked there waiting to be delivered?

I am not sure what makes them refuse to switch to Ni-Cad batteries instead? To me that would look like the most logical response.
Member
Registered: May 2009
Posts: 944
Jeroen Hoppenbrouwers wrote
I hope we won't see the time that development of any aircraft turns out to be, by definition, a gamble 'to bet the farm' and/or that research & development simply will halt due to insurmountable costs or uninsurable risks (which is actually the same as insurmountable costs).

On the other hand, it may lead to abandoning the competitive model, where only the bottom line counts and investors run away for unpolished risk/benefit ratios. It may be that cooperative models will eventually come up, where fair prices are paid for development work, but there is no overall profit to be made. Something like public transport; I know very few places where the public transport system is self-sufficient, yet most people agree that it is worth the taxpayer's money. Maybe developing aircraft (and microprocessors) is getting too complex to remain competitive, as the whole world's market (100% share) is needed to recover the costs?


Jeroen


These things are also complicated by the globalization of the airliner development and production process. As best I can follow, the lithium battery R&D and production was outsourced to some sort of combination of a Japanese and a French company. There is also the likelihood that international politics and cultural differences are mixed in with this strange stalemate of the 787's commercialization. "Wheels within wheels" is an aphorism that comes to mind.

I just have to believe that Boeing doesn't have a parallel NiCd battery program in the wings, waiting to be routinely certified if their "let's relaunch the 787 in 2 weeks" public strategy.

This whole situation seems so unlike traditional Boeing business practices and traditions...I'm beginning to sense that something else is going on behind the scenes. One would think that it would leak by now, though...
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Phil Bunch
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Phil Bunch
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... I've now been waiting for the FAA for a month... and my paperwork wasn't exactly worth looking at, with the DER simply having zero comments. That sequester thing surely slows them down...


Jeroen
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http://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/Boeing_787_Battery_System_Modifications

"The NTSB and the JTSB are still investigating the origin of the battery overheating events which occurred to two different aircraft within 9 days of each other in January 2013. However, the FAA has considered a Boeing proposal for modifications to the battery system and has approved it as a basis for testing a solution which will allow the FAA to sanction a return of the aircraft type to service."

User posted image

"Jim, when the lithium crystals start cracking, we'll have to eject the core."



Hoppie
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Registered: Jan 2010
Posts: 17
I think everybody is fixed in the Batteries and they are forgetting the role play by the Battery Charging System in this mess. Also, Boeing's solutions seem tobe aimed to minimize and contain damages to the Batteries casing in case of future catastrophic failures. It doesn't inspire confidence. Not good.

Me think,

MAB
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It feels like Boeing has firmly committed "at all costs" to have Li-Ion batteries in the 787. I understand some of the major improvements in energy/weight ratio and other critical physical/electrical phenomena that Li-Ion brings over NiCd. These surely make for an important part of the 'dream'. Apparently, Boeing (at least some part of it, apparently a powerful part) has determined that this part of the dream must, at all costs, be carried forward.

There are significant implications throughout the aircraft if the batteries would be replaced by a different system. It may still put out 28V but nearly everything else would be different. An airliner is not just a bunch of power consumers on a common bus. A redesign and recertification of even a small subsystem of an airliner is a nightmare. Boeing must fix the battery subsystem and leave everything else untouched. This may explain their focus on getting it right.

Nobody can change the way how Li-Ion batteries work. The world knows that this technology has its risks. We can mitigate risks -- but not eradicate them. A new charger, a new charge/discharge monitor, new temperature sensors, all of these can attempt to better manage the battery operation -- but it remains a risky technology. And when (not if, when) it fails, it will be a significant risk to flight safety. This demands heavyweight (literally) safeguards, firewalls in the literal sense of the word, to contain the expected battery cell failure. And at the same time, this battery powers an airliner. You cannot just remove the battery from the live system when you think it is going berzerk. A battery is a crucial part of an airliner's backup systems. There will be cases where the captain prefers to set the battery on fire in order to keep the airliner alive.

As long as Li-Ion is not fully understood (and it isn't, despite four decades of experience), and as long as there is no better technology available that is at least as understood, there is little Boeing can do except push on.

A scary situation, sure. But hey, free enterprise, right? Things only get better by taking risks and making an educated bet on the benefits it could bring if successful. This implies that bets gone wrong will hurt you. If you cannot take the pain, and there is no government to help you out, well...

I wonder whether Boeing would be too big to fail...?


Hoppie
« Last edit by Jeroen Hoppenbrouwers on Mon, 01 Apr 2013 01:30:33 +0000. »
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Registered: Jul 2012
Posts: 17
Okay, let's assume the batteries could now safely "overheat" without any further damage to the aircraft. But you might still lose the main battery through a fire. So by that wouldn't you lose your most critical infrastructure? What would this mean for the operations (engine and system failures, standby power, brakes), for ETOPS and for public perception? Can we really go on without knowing the root cause?
Member
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Jeroen Hoppenbrouwers wrote
If you cannot take the pain, and there is no government to help you out, well...

Hoppie


Forgetting the Dreamliner and Boeing for a second, the line above gave me comfort about not being the only one noticing profound changes in the geopolitics of the third ball in the Solar System. After 50,000 years everything changes to stay the same.

Oh well...

MAB
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Registered: May 2009
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Here's another update of the 787's status and tests, etc:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-05/boeing-says-787-battery-ground-tests-done-as-flight-nears.html

If there are any more serious in-flight problems with the revised lithium battery systems after the FAA hypothetically approves the 787 for some sort of quick "return to flight" status, Boeing's decision to stick with lithium batteries would become a major disaster for the 787 program. I even wonder if it would seriously harm the 787 permanently, similar to what I recall about the DC-10 and its engine mount problems. It might not take much to make the public and airlines become averse to an airliner, whether fully justified or not.

I continue to be amazed that Boeing has stayed with the lithium batteries instead of a NiCd retrofit.

It will also be interesting to see if the FAA goes along passively with Boeing's attempts to expedite the revised battery design through the FAA and other regulatory approvals. I also can't imagine the FAA doing that, but who knows given the politics that the USA has these days...
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Phil Bunch
« Last edit by Phil Bunch on Fri, 05 Apr 2013 23:51:11 +0000. »
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I wonder if Boeing, after getting the B787 back into the air, will work on "plan B" in case there will be problems again with the new battery design so they will be able to give an answer in a very short time (or it might be the end).
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Avi Adin
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Phil Bunch
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Looks like the Dreamliner will be flying again soon!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22226843
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Like waking up with a headache ...
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A few more details here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/20/business/faa-endorses-boeing-remedy-for-787-battery.html?ref=todayspaper&pagewanted=print

But, with no proven cause for the battery failures, will owners and passengers share Boeing's enthusiasm for their new design?
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Phil Bunch
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I was surprised to read that the FAA has also approved ETOPS, as described here:

Some additional details here:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-19/faa-approves-boeing-787-battery-fix-allowing-flight-resumptions.html

Excerpt:

"Modifications to the planes began yesterday, and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it will issue a directive next week to let flights resume once the battery fixes are made. The 787 will still be allowed to travel as far as 180 minutes from the nearest airport, enabling it to be used on over-ocean routes, said Laura Brown, an FAA spokeswoman. "
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Phil Bunch
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ETOPS is a statistical game and I think (don't know for sure) that the battery problems, which did not happen in ETOPS airspace, did not influence this game.

Note that ETOPS is mostly if not only about engines (Twin Engine in the acronym). If you don't shutdown an engine in flight, you have no ETOPS problem.

Probably all the tens of thousands of hours of test flights were carefully designed to be ETOPS-qualifying and therefore the 787 has been building ETOPS score over the years leading to deployment?


Hoppie
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ETOPS does not only refer to single engine flight time limitations, it also comprises crew procedures, engineering and flight procedures. And these days ETOPS also comprises airplanes with more than two engines.

Even without being familiar with the electrical design of the 787 this battery issue might very well impact ETOPS. Just consider this: Power must be fed to all essential electrical systems. The Li battery obviously is a rather central component to all things electrical on this airplane, so a backup power solution must be present which powers all essentials for the remainder of the flight. If backup powers the systems for less than whatever ETOPS rating you're going for, you have no ETOPS compliance.

Cheers

- Balt
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Location: Sydney, Australia
My understanding was the battery wasn't of use in the air, only on the ground? It's the APU battery for starting the APU in the absence of other power sources.

There are 3 other sources in the air - engine 1, engine 2, and RAT?

Therefore 'loss' of battery / charging (per se) is not be relevant to ETOPS?

But then I got all that from PPRuNe so who knows... :)

Quote
From the 2010 study guide, the Boeing MMEL says the APU battery can be inop (or maybe removed?) if all engine VFSGs are OK and you stay within ETOPS 180.
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