It was bound to happen at some point. The Federal Aviation Administration - more widely known as the FAA - have begun their crackdown on lithium-ion batteries. This proverbial shot across the bow from the FAA is a warning to engineering companies developing and utilizing lithium-ion batteries, to tighten up battery safety. 36 months ago, what are being called "fire-prone" lithium-ion batteries caught fire on a Boeing 787, alerting the public to the fact that some lithium-ion batteries could suffer from being susceptible to a process known as "thermal runaway". In this process, the heat inside and outside of a lithium battery stretches past what it can handle, whereafter the batteries become flammable.
Boeing's engineers were scrutinized for the batteries catching fire and were encouraged to redesign the batteries. The aircraft uses the lithium-ion battery for backup power. Now, the batteries are stored in "fireproof containers" (pictured left) that ensure, if a fire does break out, it prevents it from escaping into the plane. Ventilation tubes are now also in place, so that if any chemical explosion occurs, the fumes are transferred to the outside of the aircraft.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the FAA have delivered their safety guidelines for the 737 passenger jets and the 767 cargo jets to Boeing. The new terms suggest that Boeings' battery design should "eliminate the potential for uncontrolled failures". If uncontrolled failure does happen, the FAA warns that the company should take the necessary steps to ensure that any onboard passengers will remain safe. The safety regulations are not only directed at Boeing alone, the FAA is hoping that all aircraft companies will abide by their new guidelines.
However, Airbus disagrees with the new guidelines, in terms of the metal casing for the backup lithium-ion batteries. The FAA is suggesting Airbus fit their A350 aircraft with the precautionary mechanism, but the company seems reluctant to sign off on the idea. They've been saying "no" since last September. The company maintains that its batteries are smaller and safer than Boeing's and won't need the fireproof containers.
It was Airbus's Executive Vice President of Engineering Charles Champion, in an interview to Flight Global, who said: "If you start to put a huge coffin around the battery system in place then you lose all the benefit of the lithium-ion battery." Airbus utilize batteries built by Saft, a world leader in renewable energy technology that was recently bought by Total S.A.
Fire-prone lithium batteries are nothing new. The United States's Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that by July 2016, up to $2 million in property damage - as a result of 60 fires - were caused by so-called "hoverboard" technologies (pictured left). The multicell lithium battery packs within the hoverboards - that house 20 lithium ion cells per board - have been declared as a fire hazard. Once the lithium batteries inside surpass their heat thresholds, they tend to catch fire. If one catches fire, all of them follow.
"After months of excellent, round-the-clock work by our engineers, investigators and compliance officers, CPSC has secured the recall of more than a half-million hoverboards by 10 different companies," said CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye.
Source: Wall Street Journal