Battery Over-Voltage May Have Caused Fire on Boeing 787

January 17, 2013 by Jeff Shepard

According to a statement from the Japan Transport Safety Board, the Li-ion battery that was located beneath the cockpit of the Boeing 787 that recently caught fire while on the ground at Boston's Logan Airport may have been subjected to "voltage exceeding the design limit." The suggestion is that the fault may not be in the battery itself, but in the battery protection circuitry. A clear understanding of the cause is important not only for the future of the 787, but also for the Airbus A350 and the International Space Station (ISS), both of which have announced their intent to use the same or very similar Li-ion batteries from GS Yuasa Lithium Power, Inc.

In a statement, Airbus indicated that is does not see an imminent effect of the Boeing 787 grounding on the Airbus A350 program, which also plans to use the same Li-ion batteries causing problems for the 787. Boeing is the prime contractor to NASA for the space station and is responsible for the integration of new hardware and software from a range of suppliers. In November, GS Yuasa won a contract to provide lithium ion batteries that eventually will help power the ISS.

Because planes like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 rely more than any previous airliners on electrical signals to help power and control nearly all their systems, they must use the latest Li-ion battery technologies. For example, the 787 runs more on batteries than other planes offered by Boeing and received special FAA permission in 2007 for the use of the Li-ion batteries.

A NASA spokesman at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said the batteries for the space station are the same technology but "different." While the 787 and A350 have designed in batteries from GS Yuasa Lithium Power's LPV series products, the ISS will use products from the company's GEN II LSE lithium-ion prismatic series.

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) was the sub-contractor that awarded GS Yuasa the contract to provide lithium ion (Li-ion) battery cells to be used on the International Space Station (ISS). PWR will integrate GS Yuasa Li-ion cells into batteries that will replace the nickel-hydrogen (Ni-H2) batteries which currently power the ISS Electrical Power System (EPS) during its eclipse mode. This battery replacement effort is part of an initiative to extend the operation and utilization of the ISS.

"Over the past 3 years, GS Yuasa's technology and manufacturing capability have been thoroughly evaluated by NASA. Following destructive physical analyses of our cells, successful completion of cell qualification and comprehensive audits of our processes and facilities, this award affirms GS Yuasa's uncommon quality, service and value," said Curtis Aldrich, GYLP's director of business development at the time that the initial contract was awarded. "We are very happy to continue our relationship with PWR and we are proud to have the opportunity to support the ISS program."

GS Yuasa will supply its LSE134 li-ion cell which has completed qualification testing for the ISS program. The LSE134 (134Ah nameplate capacity) cell is a member of GS Yuasa's Generation III family of Li-ion cells for space and is ideally suited to the electrical, size and mass requirements of this mission. The LSE134 approximately triples the available energy storage on both a per mass and a per volume basis relative to the existing Ni-H2 battery and is capable of powering critical ISS systems well beyond the required 10-year service life.