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Boeing knows how volatile its batteries can be

This Jan. 17, 2013 photo provided by the Japan Transport Safety Board shows the distorted main lithium-ion battery of the All Nippon Airways' Boeing 787 which made an emergency landing on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 at Takamatsu airport in Takamatsu, western Japan. What makes them burn so hot and fast is the electrolytes in the cells are very flammable and they produce oxygen when they burn. So when they catch fire, they usually burn until their fuel is gone. (AP Photo)

Boeing knows all too well about the dangers of the lithium-ion batteries that forced the grounding of its Dreamliner fleet last week. A 787 prototype blew-up during testing in 2006.

Boeing was testing a prototype charging system at the Securaplane Technologies plant in Tucson. A large lithium-ion battery was hooked-up to the system when it exploded. Several workers tried to put-out the flames with fire extinguishers, but the fire was too hot.

The Seattle Times reports the fire burned at 1,200 degrees, and it couldn't be put out, even with the army of firefighters that responded. The fire burned the entire 10,000 square foot building to the ground, costing the company millions of dollars.

The cause of the fire was never determined, but human error and a bad battery were among the possibilities. Boeing believes the fire was caused by an improper testing setup.

The lithium ion batteries are used to start the main engines on the Dreamliner and power backup systems.

What makes them burn so hot and fast is the electrolytes in the cells are very flammable and they produce oxygen when they burn. So when they catch fire, they usually burn until their fuel is gone.

About the Author


Chris Sullivan is a traffic reporter for KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. He cares deeply about the amount of time you spend sitting in Seattle traffic.

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