October 2021
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Boeing’s flying b*mb?

You’ve probably read about the fires that have occurred in the lithium-ion batteries on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. If you Google lithium-ion batteries, there are hundreds of articles about so-called “thermal runaways” in lithium ion batteries. For example, in June 2014, police at San Diego International Airport noticed a passenger’s bag was smoking as it journeyed around the carousel. Inside, a lithium-ion battery had touched a screwdriver and both had melted. In September 2012, a flight attendant and two passengers were burned when they handled a mobile phone and spare battery that overheated during a flight. In April 2012 a lithium battery inside someone’s personal air purifier caught fire at 28,000ft.

Apparently, all lithium batteries are prone to this problem. “Lithium cells and batteries (UN 3090) and lithium batteries contained in or packed with equipment (UN 3091) are classified as dangerous goods for transport by road, sea and air.”

One academic study on the dangers of lithium-ion batteries concluded written in bold: “Treat lithium batteries as potential bombs and give them a high level of respect.”


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The chemistry of Lithium-ion batteries is not fully understood and they have long had a nasty reputation for this kind of behaviour with fires in laptop computers and mobile phones most commonly during charging. A phone left on charge is suspected of having caused a disastrous fire last month on an Indian Railways night train in which an entire carriage was incinerated with a high death toll.

It may be significant that Boeing’s new boss has a marketing rather than an engineering background. One critic wrote: “Boeing should have listened to their seasoned engineers rather than charging off on a management inspired drive to strip out weight to meet their fuel efficiency claims”.

Perhaps the Dreamliner 787 should be called the Flying Nightmare 999?

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