Boeing may have battery fix: King 5

KING 5 TV (NBC Seattle) reports Boeing may have a fix for the battery issues on the 787.

Flight Global’s Steve Trimble has this historical perspective on battery technology over the decades. Free registration is required to Flight’s silly “Flight Pro” and then you have to navigate an incredibly annoying home page to find the bloody story. Good luck.

56 comments on “Boeing may have battery fix: King 5

  1. Boeing obviously has to have a fix for the faulty batteries which grounded
    the 787 and they will come up with one, I am sure!
    The big question is, how long it will take them to do so and based on
    all we have heard is, that it may take up to two years to do so, which
    I believe will I believe would be catastrophic for the program AND thus for
    the airlines which ordered the a/p and for Boeing!

    • I guess Boeing must have started looking into the battery several months ago. 100-150 batteries in a plane which only has 50,000 hours behind it is one per 40 hours, at $16,000 ea that is $400 per hour, on a ten hour flight (about what the aircraft is designed for) that is $20 per seat.

      Whatever triggered the ANA and JAL incidents didn’t have to happen just before the battery overheated, as the aircraft’s monitoring software doesn’t give any clues I guess the cause was possibly days before the event. I think Boeing will eventualy have to ensure that the buffering is sufficient on all the electrical systems that have a processor in them.

    • ps what happens on an all electrical plane if the battery is flat and all power generation goes off? The NW Hudson river landing wouldn’t happen on a 787 if the APU and flight management back up batteries were flat! At one per 40 hours they should both fail once every 1600 hours, or if we are talking 10 hour sectors once every 16 flights. Not so much back up after all.

  2. welll duh !

    Thats what Cessna did-and is doing

    And perhaps what they should have done from the start

    Sure glad they dont need local engineers to fix and approve

    Must have been from the Mensas from St Louis

    Why not change the battery to a safer unit

    and put a higher percent voltage cutoff

    Hello James M

    Why not get the Energiz er bunny to help your current clowns with power points ??

  3. But this fix only addresses the aftermath. It doesn’t stop the battery producing smoke, catching fire or exploding.

    There is no way I’ll get on a 787 until the route cause is fixed.

    Would Boeing executives be prepared to fly themselves and their families on a plane that still has an underlying problem?

    • Yup, as I wrote a couple of days ago :
      Use a hermetic enclosure that channels expelled material into a “barf bag”.

      That would clean the mess away in a more benign way
      but would not fix the cause.

  4. Dominic Gates has already written a story on what it would take to upgrade to a new design that would contain a thermal runaway. However, as matjamca points about, it wouldn’t prevent a thermal runaway occurring in the first place.

    http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2020241162_787battery29xml.html

    In 2011, a lithium-ion battery fire destroyed a Citation jet on the ground. Cessna and the FAA required the batteries on all planes of that particular model to be replaced by conventional batteries.

    EaglePicher’s Nowlin said he expects the battery to be certified for the airplane this year.

    The company’s website shows a video of the battery being tested for FAA certification.

    But this is not a quick fix for Boeing.

    Nowlin said the battery-certification process with the FAA, starting from scratch, typically takes 18 months.

    A Wall Street analyst, whose firm doesn’t allow him to be quoted, estimated that it would take Boeing 12 to 15 months to update the 787 battery design to the EaglePicher standard and get it certified.

    How Boeing and Cessna took different paths to testing and certification is partly a matter of timing.

    The FAA has mandated that any aircraft using high-capacity lithium-ion main batteries — whether built by Boeing, Cessna, or any other manufacturer — must satisfy certain “special conditions.”

    To do so, the manufacturers and the FAA agree in advance exactly what tests will satisfy them that all possible dangers from overheating are prevented.

    EaglePicher’s key test — proving that a battery explosion is contained within the box — is one such certification test pre-agreed as satisfying the FAA’s conditions.

    The company’s website contends that overcharge explosion tests on its battery were repeated successfully multiple times and concludes that “even during this worst-case scenario, the (battery) is able to contain a thermal event.”

    It’s among a set of standard tests that were agreed to in 2008 by an aviation-industry committee that included senior Boeing electronics engineers and that the FAA approved in a 2010 draft policy memo as one way to comply with its certification conditions.

    But by 2008, Boeing’s Dreamliner had already gone down a different test path toward satisfying the FAA.

    Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said the industry committee’s test standards “were published after we had completed our certification plans and begun our testing efforts.”

    Boeing did its own extensive testing and analysis to meet the FAA requirements, he said. The precise tests Boeing used to meet the FAA’s certification conditions are proprietary.

    • New standars adopted in 2010? Does that mean that the A350 might have already incorperated the new standard? That would limit the “fallout” from the 787 problems which Airbus might have to deal with, they might fly it in June after all.

    • You can’t have proprietary tests for meeting certification requirements.
      You just can’t IMHO. Opens the door wide for anything from a harmless fib to fraud.

      • It depends how you define “proprietary” and what it applies to. If it means tests that are specific to you, I think that’s OK. Claiming the results of tests to be confidential wouldn’t be OK.

        Software has an interesting twist because it is subject to copyright. Compliance tests are as an integral part of safety-critical software as the functions that actually control the device. Both would be subject to copyright.

        • Almost all certification is passed as a result of in-house testing (I assume that’s what’s meant by “proprietary testing”).

          The certifying authority has a certain amount of trust that the manufacturer is not flat-out lying when it presents its numbers, but assuming that isn’t the case then the certification process consists mostly of a very detailed chewing through hundreds of documents describing the design principles, the thinking behind the design principles, the tests to demonstrate the thinking, the results of the tests, the impact of the results… and how all of this conforms to all the relevant certification standards.

          So, again assuming no outright fraud takes place, the manufacturer has to supply a vast library of paperwork documenting just about everything and then be prepared to answer a long list of detailed questions about anything the authority wants clarified. In principle the authority knows everything there is to know about the design and testing – and if it’s not satisfied then it can request more information or testing to validate the manufacturer’s claims.

    • This is not going to inspire confidence in the traveling public, which is Boeing’s other big problem now.

      Secondly, how will this affect Boeing’s ability to sign up launch customers for other new programs? I am not thinking of the 787-10, as it’s supposed to be a straight stretch of a design which will hopefully have the bugs beaten out of it by then, but 777x (if it happens) or whatever is the next major project.

      Lastly I wonder how many operators are on the phone to JL asking for a 787 alternative no matter what it costs, either a A330NEO for medium range, or an A350-800 that has been optimised for 250 seats, rather than just a cut down 900. In some ways Airbus abandoned the 2-3 hundres seat market as being not big enough for 2 new types, they might reconsider that now.

  5. matjamca :
    But this fix only addresses the aftermath. It doesn’t stop the battery producing smoke, catching fire or exploding.
    There is no way I’ll get on a 787 until the route cause is fixed.
    Would Boeing executives be prepared to fly themselves and their families on a plane that still has an underlying problem?

  6. matjamca :
    But this fix only addresses the aftermath. It doesn’t stop the battery producing smoke, catching fire or exploding.
    There is no way I’ll get on a 787 until the route cause is fixed.
    Would Boeing executives be prepared to fly themselves and their families on a plane that still has an underlying problem?

    In that case you can not enter any plane today, the turbofans have a chance of a fan blade quitting therefore they have a prescribed fan containment ring around it and a test to verify it does contain the blade, same thing. Your argument is painting an ideal world that does not exist.

    • Sorry Ferpe I strongly disagree. The turbofan is a proven, highly reliable piece of engineering. I accept we can never be 100% risk free, but this is an entirely different issue.

      This fix Boeing has is NOT a fix at all, but an elaborate way of trying to contain whatever hell the battery unleashes. The fact is simply this, Boeing are not fixing the route cause of the battery issue in this ‘fix’.

    • A fire on board an aircraft is far more dangerous than a blade off event. Worse still, these battery fires are extremely difficult if not impossible to extinguish because they produce Oxygen fuelling the fire from within.

      I’m sorry but you don’t seem to fully appreciate just how serious this is.

  7. Yesterday two experts said that the battery pack configuration with large cells is too unsafe and these jokers are just going to “contain” and have better venting!? This is still just PR damage bullsh*t containment and venting, not an actual solution!

    • Take with a bit of salt.
      The high cell count packs used in electric drives is mandated by the required high DC voltage high efficiency inverters. ( lower current, lower losses, Tesla: 375V nom, more than 300 NIMH cells in series ) For a low voltage high cell count battery you would have to connect cell strings in parallel. That opens another tin of worms.

      ** The containment solution will be required in any case imho.
      change to cylindrical cells, they are more robust.

      * Boeing needs to get away from charging to 100% capacity. (as 101% is “poof”)

      * Set the lower threshhold capacity higher in the plane.
      i.e. switch off from the plane side before the battery switches off into “noreturn mode”

      * fix/reduce excessive current drains in “battery mode”
      have a better plan what needs to be switched on in every use case.

      * fix/reduce “stealthy” power drains on the battery.
      if your battery runs “unexpectedly” down there is something you haven’t understood
      or it is not unexpected at all.

  8. That is one of the most incredible stories I have ever read.
    Boeing’s plan is to build a stronger box, or a dome and cut a hole in the fuselage for a big”hose” to spew burning bits out of the aircraft?!
    Tell me that story is a joke, please.

  9. Proposing solutions, even when you know they won’t be approved, builds pressure on the authorities. It will make FAA look inflexible, slow, pre-occupied, uncooperative if they keep shooting down solutions. This is the second soluttion Boeing proposes.

    • To be, or not to be, that is the question:
      Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
      The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
      Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles.

      Either the FAA accepts Li-ion batteries on board aircraft and the weaknesses of the Boeing system are addressed. Or the FAA rejects that technology alt together and Boeing has to start from scratch.

      I am of the opinion that it is a complete waist of time to try to fix something that the FAA can no longer morally endorse. On the one hand it makes no sense from an aircraft safety perspective and on the other Boeing will not win back public confidence in the Dreamliner if it sticks with Li-ion batteries.

      The damage is done. So even if they find the cause they cannot just technically fix the problem and think they will get away with it. It’s too late now. Li-ion has to go.

  10. File this under “well duh!”…

    Better containment and evacuation was an obvious first step for most people, I think. But it still doesn’t address the *cause* of the problem.

  11. This is just a patch to re-fly under dérogation … !
    Just supressing the dangerous effects of these melt down, to not endanger the plane nor the équipments panel, may be sufficient for FAA/NTSB, to allow Boeing flying the B787, up the date they will propose a more effective solution !
    For what I saw, a B787 can fly without battery power !

    The B787, has been stopped for the un-containment of the battery melt down, not for reliability questions, logically Boeing may try to fly them with a temporary and approved patch !

    • Going for a provisional fix to allow return to service is a legitimate objective.
      More interesting : will a provisional fix be (significantlly) faster than a clean solution?

      When Boeing seemingly doesn’t need engineers. Do they similarly not need customers?
      ( I am quite impressed with how well the stock value is managed. looks like the performance of BCA is removed out of that loop )

      • “More interesting : will a provisional fix be (significantlly) faster than a clean solution?”

        That’s, of course, a crucial question — if not the crucial question.

  12. I suspect the reporter got only part of the story, so to speak. Probably spoke with someone at Boeing who said the were looking at these revised containment measures. All well and good, but as has already been pointed out, it does not solve the issue of why these batteries have cooked off in the first place.

    My guess is that FAA and Boeing are now forced to find the cause, no matter what. Changing the system to control the issue better will probably not wash with the press, the general public and the politicians, who have now, for better or worse, gotten into the act. As Scott pointed out, FAA has to a certain degree, painted itself, and Boeing into a corner.

    A solution without a cause, if you will pardon me for the phrase, just won’t fly.

  13. I would expect as a minimum the FAA to insist their special conditions on containment will now apply to individual cells rather than complete batteries. Boeing would have to demonstrate that cells are sufficiently isolated that a fire in one cell will not ignite another cell.

    This wouldn’t be a bad solution for Boeing as it would allow them to keep their main battery and its certification. They would only have to redesign the housing.

    I also have concerns about the load that the APU places on its battery and the current discharge necessary to start the APU. Maybe there’s a case for replacing that battery with a NiCad one or adding a temporary extra battery for that purpose. Not that I know anything about batteries, obviously …

    • The D.Gates ( ~150bats changed) article indicates that the regular drain on the batteries already is imense in the “plane idle on batteries” situation.

      Batteries are often drained to their lower limit ( i.e. they switch into “no return off”)

      That imho is abusive. Wonder if you can “try” to start the APU when the battery is down to 20..25%. And is the protection circuitry fast enough to work its magic in that use case?

      • I also understand that battery is only discharged when the plane is on the ground. It should be possible to put in place measures that get the APU started without an abusive discharge and avoid draining the battery unnecessarily on idle, and to do so without touching systems that are safety-critical for in-flight.

      • One fix may be to have the APU run always.
        i.e. you can use the battery to bootstrap and then transition to APU running.
        No comfy but draining “idle on batteries”.
        Wonder how many current sinks are activated from just opening a fuel panel and what duration empties the battery.
        More/Less than an hour? ( Continuous draining at more than 1C/65A/1.8kW is quite a lot of load)

  14. And, since they find nothing … apart the potentially dangerous design of the battery package, not enough cooled, and too compact to avoid propagation …

    So, If they don’ t fly the B787, equipped with a smarter monitoring, for example, they may never find the root cause too !

  15. The story didn’t say this was the only fix for Boeing to design. It has to be only part of the fix and the battery design and usage must ultimately be redesigned. I don’t beleive the B-787 will be cleared to fly again without knowing what has caused the batteries to burn.

    • kc135topboom :
      The story didn’t say this was the only fix for Boeing to design. It has to be only part of the fix and the battery design and usage must ultimately be redesigned. I don’t beleive the B-787 will be cleared to fly again without knowing what has caused the batteries to burn.

      Fully agree.
      Of course, it would definitely be an improvement if the containment worked a bit better than it did in the ANA and JAL cases. However, that doesn’t fix the root problem of, within just over a year after EIS, two batteries encountering a thermal failure that required containment to begin with.

  16. ikkeman :while in the air the generators deliver plenty power. That’s not when the batteries are used.A flat battery makes it difficult to get into the air, i.e. no safety risk.

    Not in a case like Transat 236 or US 1594. I wonder how they glide with the RAT deployed??

  17. The long term “fix” — while at the same time offering significant efficiency savings over that of the 787 and A350 architectures — would be to make all subsystems able to convert electric energy from a fuel cell based power source instead of the current set-ups where primary power from the engines convert mechanical, thermal, hydraulic, pneumatic and electric energy. On the 787, the pneumatic system is more or less removed (i.e. bleed air is still used for the de-icing of the engine pod intake), but the engines are still functioning as that of a dynamo as the primary source of electrical energy.

    The Airbus Fuel Cell Approach (Pages 6, 10, 11.)

    http://www.bba-bw.de/files/brennstoffzelle_im_flugzeug_-_law_121023.pdf

  18. MartinA :

    ikkeman :while in the air the generators deliver plenty power. That’s not when the batteries are used.A flat battery makes it difficult to get into the air, i.e. no safety risk.

    Not in a case like Transat 236 or US 1594. I wonder how they glide with the RAT deployed??

    Good question,
    Does the RAT works well without battery ??
    Well the B787 has two sets of battery, but, is the aft electric board & battery, specifically linked to the RAT ??
    Anyone know??

    • I am more and more convinced that the German AG model with two-tier board system is way superior to the Anglo-Saxon model:

      In Germany the supervisory board of large corporations is composed of 20 members, 10 of which are elected by the shareholders, the other 10 being employee representatives. The supervisory board oversees and appoints the members of the management board and must approve major business decisions.

      • All models ( used to) work reasonably well …
        … Until the Yahoos also known as looters and takers have hollowed it out to a thin shell. After those have moved on
        that shell will crumble to the ground and others will have
        to fix it (again) towards something working. ( rinse, repeat )

  19. BA Announced the results of the EIP program yesterday ( payment of a bonus ) to most employees based on yearly target earnings. Its done by major areas, space, military, etc.

    since the employees in Commercial are not needed to fikx the battery problem according to McNearney and Delaney- the Commercial folks got a few days equivalent LESS than the other groups. Seems that the 787 issues impacted commercial earnings, and in true Boeing fashion, they punish the innocent. Obviously the battery problem and other 787 issues had not surfaced by the end of year( at least publicly) – and obviously the whack against earnings was NOT the fault of any manager or executive- or the I got mine crowd.

    The beatings WILL continue until morale improves !!!!!

    • “The beatings WILL continue until morale improves !!!!!” Funny, I thought that was the motto in my organisation.

      ANA is going to ask for compensation. Doing the math, they are losing up to USD1m/day/787 grounded give or take (USD15m revenue loss due to grounding in January, 15 days, 17 planes). Let’s take that as ballpark for the global fleet of 50, and apply a 50% reduction. That’s still USD25m per day. Then we consider delays in delivery (5/month, so add USD2.5m for each month to the sum – February USD27.5m/day, March USD30m, etc.). Of course, lost revenue does not equal damage, but assume a 5% margin, plus 25% fixed cost which have to be paid by the airline in any case (pilots, capital cost, etc), to ease the math, and you’re still looking at USD8.25m/day global cost for January, USD9m for February, etc.). So in February, USD250m in February, unless they get the birds back in the air. Well I guess at least they save the money for swapping the batteries!

      All of this back of the envelope, and while almost certainly quite wrong, gives you an idea of the cost to airlines, and what they’re negotiating with Boeing about.

      • Did they actually make a dime flying the 787?
        All that maintainance and contigency activity must have significantly cut into profits.
        And look at United : three planes readied for one inaugural flight. That is at about “Wettflug der Nationen” level of backup effort.
        He, thinking about it there is quite a lot of similarity there with that books storyline ;-)

    • Airbus seems to be done with weathering brown matter precipitation uncommented ?

      cite:
      “I’m not going to give any lessons to Boeing. At the same time, I don’t have to take any either, when I think we have done well and have a plan which allows me to have aircraft flying with batteries that don’t catch fire,” he said.
      “Let’s allow the U.S. authorities to come up with their own recommendations and decisions.”
      /cite
      Boeing shouldn’t decide any more ;-?

  20. Uwe :
    Did they actually make a dime flying the 787?
    All that maintainance and contigency activity must have significantly cut into profits.

    Good point. So ANA and United should pay money to Boeing for having their planes grounded, since they benefit from it. I like it!

    Are you a lawyer?

  21. I’m amazed by ANA’s hold back comments and loyalty during the last 5 years.

    A normal airline would have called it a day a long time ago, like China Eastern and Qantas and the others behind the 180+ (? nowhere to find) cancellations.

    • They probably got the planes at a price that was too good to turn down (see Jon Ostrower’s old report on launch pricing), and with the repeat delays and compensation the amount of cash changing hand on each delivery is not going to be a lot.

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