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Airbus, FAA Spar Over Lithium Batteries - WSJ July 27, 2016

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Airbus, FAA Spar Over Lithium Batteries - WSJ July 27, 2016

Old 27th Jul 2016, 22:20
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Airbus, FAA Spar Over Lithium Batteries - WSJ July 27, 2016

From the Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2016 an article titled, Airbus, FAA Spar Over Lithium Batteries:

Airbus, FAA Spar Over Lithium Batteries - WSJ
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Old 28th Jul 2016, 02:45
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In a nutshell:

Escalating arguments about the extent of safeguards and testing for such rechargeable batteries—reminiscent of Boeing Co.’s difficulties with similar technology years ago—come after European regulators already have approved the Airbus systems based on less-stringent requirements.
The FAA seems to be operating under "once bitten, twice shy" on this one.
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Old 28th Jul 2016, 04:10
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Just be aware that "lithium batteries" covers a number of chemistries while all contain significant energy when charged, some will go into chemical thermal runaway (burn) and some dont!
There is a big difference in terms of air safety (the ones boeing were using were the type that burn because they have a very slight weight advantage which was lost when they had to build bloody great steel boxes for them)
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Old 28th Jul 2016, 14:05
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You can find the explanation in the first words of the first sentence:

"European jet maker Airbus Group SE is locked in a dispute with U.S. regulators over the safety of lithium-ion batteries installed on its latest model, according to people familiar with the details.".

Also, the US agency is finding a foreign manufacturer an easier target to create an inroad into regulating the battery issue - less lobbying. It's similar to the way the US banned *imports* of automatic weapons to combat gun crime, without offending the domestic gun lobby. One can recall that Boeing was allowed to self-certify its 787 battery system, so clearly domestic manufacturers enjoy a certain leeway on safety issues ... from domestic regulators.
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Old 28th Jul 2016, 17:36
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Just to be clear on B787 battery issue

GS Yuasa self-certified the battery
JCAB accepted GS Yuasa self certification
FAA accepted JCAB certification
EASA accepted FAA certification
Boeing just framed the certificate and hung on the wall

So Boeing, FAA and EASA had no real involvement in testing and certification. But they were deeply involved in steel box design and certification.

There is no permanent fix (without steel box) to B787 battery because GS Yuasa never accepted there is a problem with the battery in the first place.
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Old 28th Jul 2016, 17:55
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There is no permanent fix (without steel box) to B787 battery because GS Yuasa never accepted there is a problem with the battery in the first place.
Not entirely true - the battery was completely redesigned as part of the steel box fix. IIRC they increased the distance and insulation between cells to keep a fault in one cell from propagating to adjacent cells.
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Old 28th Jul 2016, 18:40
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Which part is not true?

If they are confident battery is safe with moving around spacers, they don't need 120+ lbs steel box.

As long as there is a steel box, it is not a permanent fix.

Steel box dead weight is almost equivalent to one paid pax.
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Old 28th Jul 2016, 19:16
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If Yuasa wouldn't accept there was a problem, why did they redesign the battery?
The steel box was added because they were unable to establish root cause, without knowing root cause they couldn't be confident of the fix.

Given there are over 400 787s currently flying around without battery problems, it looks like the battery redesign worked.
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Old 28th Jul 2016, 22:01
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Originally Posted by tdracer
If Yuasa wouldn't accept there was a problem, why did they redesign the battery?
Because battery was never tested with multiple cells. Please don't call moving spacers a major redesign. Even DIY enthusiasts can figure out a better fix.

Originally Posted by tdracer
Given there are over 400 787s currently flying around without battery problems, it looks like the battery redesign worked.
Well there was at least one reported incident in Japan, that battery was quietly replaced. No further info. Why not remove the dead weight of steel box. Airlines can save on fuel.

Originally Posted by tdracer
they were unable to establish root cause, without knowing root cause they couldn't be confident of the fix.
Corrective action without establishing root cause. Which troubleshooting standard is this.
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Old 28th Jul 2016, 22:12
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Originally Posted by notapilot15
Which part is not true?

If they are confident battery is safe with moving around spacers, they don't need 120+ lbs steel box.

As long as there is a steel box, it is not a permanent fix.

Steel box dead weight is almost equivalent to one paid pax.
This is a question from a non-pilot, with no hidden agenda.

If it is true that the steel confinement weighs about as much as one pax, and if the choice of lithium batteries over nicads is driven by weight, is there any net advantage for lithium?

Perhaps the numbers work out differently for a very electrical aircraft like the 787, which presumably needs more battery capacity than most designs? But I suppose this is a routine consideration in aircraft design; but perhaps the politics of getting FAA approval is an added factor for Airbus? How do the lifetime costs of regulatory processes compare with small differences in weight?
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Old 28th Jul 2016, 22:44
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Which part is not true?

If they are confident battery is safe with moving around spacers, they don't need 120+ lbs steel box.

As long as there is a steel box, it is not a permanent fix.

Steel box dead weight is almost equivalent to one paid pax.
Are you sure you are not quoting the added weight for the two boxes. I can't see one box (plus the vent mod) being 120lbs.

Saying that the box is not a permanent fix is like saying any post production in-service mod is not a permanent fix.

In addition, part of the post mod fix was to alter the operational procedures to ensure the battery is not 'stressed' beyond its limits. Its, discharge limits were changed too.
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Old 28th Jul 2016, 23:53
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Well there was at least one reported incident in Japan, that battery was quietly replaced. No further info. Why not remove the dead weight of steel box. Airlines can save on fuel.
Actually there is a fair amount of information on that event - single cell failed, redesigned battery did its job of preventing the failure from cascading to adjacent cells, battery box vented fumes overboard as per design intent.

Corrective action without establishing root cause. Which troubleshooting standard is this.
I take it you're not an engineer. While it's certainly desirable to nail down root cause, the real world is not always so accommodating. Boeing had some of the worlds best experts on the subject investigating and they were unable to come up with a definitive root cause. So they did what engineers do in that case - they brainstorm everything potential cause they can come up with, and addressed those potential causes. Battery design, battery monitoring, charging/discharging, and then to cover their bases they put it in a protective steel box.
What did you expect them to do, leave the 787 fleet grounded indefinitely?


BTW, the Airbus proposal of cert by analysis is exactly the course that was followed for the original 787 cert that the FAA was so roundly criticized for. I think Lonewolf is right, the FAA is being extra cautious since the exact same thing when so badly wrong with the 787.
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Old 29th Jul 2016, 00:04
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If it is true that the steel confinement weighs about as much as one pax, and if the choice of lithium batteries over nicads is driven by weight, is there any net advantage for lithium?
Flightless, this is far from my area of expertise (and I haven't worked the 787), but my understanding at the time was they couldn't go back to nicads due to the energy density - basically a NiCad of sufficient storage capacity wouldn't fit in the available space.


I thought I read somewhere that Airbus was going to abandon Li batteries for the A350 after the Boeing problems - I wonder why they went back to Li (perhaps they ran into the same size issue?)
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Old 29th Jul 2016, 02:04
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@FlightlessParrot

If I recall correctly 70 lbs LiOn equivalent NiCd will be around 350 lbs. Still NiCd cannot meet 787's hungry power requirements. 120 lb add on is better than 280 lb.

@Turin
120 lbs per battery. It is a heavy thick steel casing to contain thermal runway conditions. Rework and additional weight associated is common on frames, parts already built. But putting a battery in a steel case, forever!!! Is FAA going asking every future battery in a steel case.

@tdracer
Boeing is just an integrator, they have to take whatever partner gives. Welcome to the risk sharing partnership world of B787 program, outsourcing on steroids.
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Old 29th Jul 2016, 05:22
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One of the parameters the FAA requires is an overcharge test that can induce thermal runaway. The FAA needs to understand how this develops regarding heat generation, fire, and outgassing. Airbus refusal in making this test is based on theirs and their battery manufacturer's belief that the A350 batteries are immune to overcharging. As the FAA and industry learned with Boeing, Yuasa, SecuraPlane, and Thales on the 787 batteries, never say never.

The overall designer for the 787's electrical system, and chooser of a Lion type battery for the 787 is a French company, working with two American companies providing the integration and charging electronics, and a Japanese battery company. That is a fairly cosmopolitan group. Comments regarding nationalism/NIH beliefs are not applicable here.

If it is true that the steel confinement weighs about as much as one pax, and if the choice of lithium batteries over nicads is driven by weight, is there any net advantage for lithium?
Batteries can be charged quicker, have no memory issues from partial charges/discharges and as already mentioned, dramatically higher energy density over NiCads.
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Old 29th Jul 2016, 05:52
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lithium iron phosphate batteries dont burn ok
Yes they will get hot if internal short when charged but do not enter any sort of chemical thermal runaway
They are an order of magnitude safer than the cells Boeing used
A very slight power/weight cost but not when you include a bloody great steel box.
It was a bad call by Boeing and now "lithium batteries" have a bad rap
Unjustified, unnecessary
Huge saveing on lead acid in weight, voltage stability, no explosive gas, non corrosive, just better!
I repeat lithium iron phosphate batteries dont burn !
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Old 29th Jul 2016, 06:05
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It was a bad call by Boeing and now "lithium batteries" have a bad rap
Unjustified, unnecessary

Accident investigators have traced a fire that destroyed a UPS Boeing 747 in the United Arab Emirates in 2010 to the lithium batteries being carried in the cargo hold. Unless something is done to prevent similar disasters, the FAA now says such crashes are all but inevitable in the future.
UPS 747 Crash Highlights Lithium Battery Danger | Flying Magazine


It would seem issue with Li batteries pre-dated the 787 issues by several years...
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Old 29th Jul 2016, 06:12
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Boeing did not make the call, Thales did and told the airframer that the battery used on the 787 was safe with proper handling of charging/discharge currents, temps, and the so-called fail-safe electrical integration. They were wrong and the NTSB investigations clearly showed this.

The failure is a perfect example of how outsourcing can go awry. Never take the word of another manufacturer - test and re-test yourself. (Not an easy task in the complex and electronics/software-heavy world of commercial aviation.) It was also illustrative of the dysfunctional certification process that fully approved the 787 batteries in the first place.

Lithium iron phosphate batteries can overheat and outgas and fires are not impossible in the battery assembly, just unlikely. The manufacturer of these batteries includes aviation firefighting strategy guidance should their batteries catch fire. Never say never is the point.

If the Iron Phosphate cells are perfectly safe, Airbus should have no problem testing them for the overcharge condition - satisfying the now-skittish FAA's requirement.
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Old 29th Jul 2016, 06:36
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Fair cop vapilot "never say never" point taken !

But the lithium iron phosphate chemistry is inherently very much safer in that the battery materials themselves will not sustain a exothermic reaction

Others especially lithium colbalt oxide (the chemistry used in dreamliner do burn in a self sustaining reaction. A very very diferent scenario

Any concentrated energy source can get hot.. very hot when many kwh are contained in a small space, it is reasonable in an aviation setting that cells should be protected from cascading heat failure. But that is a very much easier (and lighter) ask with lipo than li colbalt oxide
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Old 29th Jul 2016, 06:44
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I understand the difference, but thank you Phylos for pointing that out. I am also not disagreeing with you or the battery manufacturer regarding their having qualities that lessen the number of failure modes, including the most serious, thermal runaway. Perhaps Boeing will consider the newer battery chemistry Saft uses for their next endeavour.
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