Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Future of Flying With Lithium-ion Batteries

Posted by Travel Sentry

“Houston, we have a problem.” And it is in the form of lithium-ion batteries for airlines in passenger cabins and cargo holds.

This is troublesome because our entire world seems to be energized by lithium-ion batteries. They drive the lives of our cellphones, laptops, cameras, ipods and MP3 players, flashlights and a number of other portable electronic devices.

What’s the big deal we ask. We’re talking spontaneous combustion. “When a lithium battery short-circuits or overheats, it can catch fire or explode. The fire it causes may not be as easy to extinguish as a normal combustion fire.”

FAA data show that from March 20, 1991, through Aug. 3, 2010, batteries and battery-powered devices were involved in 113 incidents with "smoke, fire, extreme heat or explosion" on passenger and cargo planes. The data are for lithium and non-lithium batteries and are not a complete list of such incidents, the agency says.

In January, the Transportation Department proposed stricter rules for companies that ship lithium batteries in cargo holds. "The frequency of incidents, combined with the difficulty in extinguishing lithium-battery fires, warrants taking strong action," Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, said of the Transportation Department's proposal.

Lithium-battery experts, security analysts and flight attendants wonder, though, if stricter rules are also needed in airline passenger cabins to prevent fires or worse: a possible attempt by a terrorist to bring down a plane by rigging a large number of batteries together to start a fire. USA Today
Since April 1999 the FAA has received reports of 40 fires involving lithium batteries and devices. Here are a few of the most recent incidents:
•On Sept. 9, 2009, a battery owned by American Airlines for use by passengers dropped during a flight and caught fire.

•On Aug. 8, 2008, a passenger on an American flight from Washington to Dallas noticed his laptop was smoking. The passenger removed the battery pack and gave it to a flight attendant. The flight attendant placed the battery in a coffee pot in the aft gallery and poured water and Sprite on it.

•On March 4, 2008, a passenger's video display device for viewing entertainment systems emitted a "10-inch plume of sparks and debris" on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Tokyo. The captain doused the device with water. A small area of the carpet in the passenger cabin was damaged.
Passengers are not allowed to put spare lithium-ion batteries in checked bags. “They can, however, put them in checked bags if they are attached to an electronic device.”

1 comment:

Lewis Larsen said...

We agree there is a public safety need to mitigate fire hazards associated with advanced Li-ion batteries, particularly when carried onboard aircraft in passengers' luggage, or when large numbers of such batteries are shipped in densely packed arrays placed inside various types of containers stored in aircraft cargo holds during flight.

Interestingly, our company has applied specialized theoretical knowledge on a practical level to try to understand the underlying causes of certain anomalous fires and explosions that occasionally occur in smaller lithium-ion batteries as well as in large multi-battery packs. In doing so, we have uncovered what may be a new class of potentially serious, previously unrecognized safety risks arising from Lithium metal dendrite structures that can ‘grow’ over time inside Li-ion batteries. A new paper by academic researchers published in May 2010 supports our deep concerns about the involvement of dendrites in catastrophic Li-ion battery failures (please see R. Bhattacharyya et al., "In situ NMR observation of the formation of metallic Lithium microstructures in Lithium batteries," Nature Materials 9 pp. 504 - 510). Details of our thoughts on this new source of concern have been publicly released in a 68-slide technical presentation on titled, "Low Energy Neutron Reactions (LENRs) in Advanced Batteries and Other Condensed Matter Environments --- Could LENRs be involved in some Li-ion battery fires?" See URL=