In November 2006, it took hours for fifty firefighters to put out the blaze that consumed the Securaplane Technologies building in Tucson, Arizona. The fire started during a laboratory test on a lithium-ion battery that went out of control. In 2007, the FAA asked Boeing to prove the safety of lithium-ion batteries before granting an airworthiness certificate to the new Dreamliner. At the time, the agency noted that “lithium-ion batteries are significantly more susceptible to internal failures that can lead to self-sustaining increases in temperature and pressure.” Boeing passed the tests and got the green light.
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has been in the news because of fires in the battery compartments. The FAA stated “The battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage and smoke on two 787 airplanes. These conditions, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment.”
Lithium batteries can hold six times the energy density than a lead-acid battery, and two or three times as much as in a nickel-metal hydride battery. Any time more energy is packed into a smaller space, safety concerns go up. All the lithium-ion systems being tested right now use an electrolyte that is flammable, so one of the safety concerns is how these electrolytes burn when the cells have been ruptured. They can also be heated to the point where the electrolytes break down into gases that the cells vent. Considering lithium ion batteries are used not only in airplanes, but in all types of consumer products, they should be handled safely and used properly.
CED Technologies has several mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and fire & explosion experts that can assist in cases involving batteries. If you have a case in which we can be of service, please contact us at 800.780.4221.