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About the “lithium” batteries on Boeing's 787 Dreamliner



January 20, 2013 – Comments (1) | RELATED TICKERS: BA

Finally, a technical subject I can speak of with some authority. One of my hobbies is being a “flashaholic”, that is someone obsessed with flashlights and batteries and electronics thereof (no, I am not kidding: check out our hobby website ). Many major media stories are full of BS, so I will do my best to set the record straight.

Said wide-body aircraft uses Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, which has well-known pluses and minuses. There are 50 such aircraft in service, and only 2 suffered battery failures: based on the battery chemistry, this is par for the course.


No, Not that “lithium” battery

You can go into any store and buy a “Lithium” battery, it is: wrapped in fancy silver foil, AA or AAA size, by Energizer, and costs about five bucks per each battery. These are not the ones in the jet planes. These you can buy in a store are really just high quality alkaline batteries: more cost but also more performance. When they are empty, you chuck 'em.



This is shorthand for lithium-cobalt rechargeable batteries often used in laptops. It is also the type in the 787. It is also famously known for “venting with spontaneous combustion”. At the website, newcomers are cautioned about use: when recharging, put the battery on a non-combustible surface, and always be in the room the whole time: at no point leave the setup unsupervised.

These and the matching rechargers are easily available at the above website from a number of specialty manufacturers via web or mail order.

They are famous for their high energy capacity (which is why Boeing chose them): a flashlight custom designed for their use can put out much more light than an automobile headlight yet be small enough to stick into a coat pocket. On the downside: most experienced users will not carry them in their pockets so close to the “family jewels” as being too unreliable and dangerous.


Safe” Lithium Rechargeable Batteries

**LiMn (lithium manganese)

**LiNiCoMn (lithium nickel cobalt manganese)

**LiFePO4 (lithium iron phosphate)

Since the invention of the LiCo, these are newcomers. On the good side, these have just as much energy capacity, and in fact are often used in “high-capacity” accessory rechargeable battery packs for various electrical hand tools. They also are not subject to “spontaneous combustion”.

On the downside, from Boeing's point of view, they require different recharging/monitoring circuits, and a whole new bureaucratic/certification cycle, which requires time and $$$.


The Stupid NiMH Solution

You and I can simply go to the local store and buy rechargeable batteries: these are the familiar NiMH batteries from a number of famous companies whose names you will easily recognize. They are also the type of batteries used in the Prius. There is absolutely no reason Boeing could not use them in the 787, albeit with a small weight penalty. 

1 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On January 21, 2013 at 12:00 PM, miteycasey (28.99) wrote:

Sounds like Boeing is tring to cut a corner and it's biting them in the ass.


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