Behind Dreamliner's Woes: Lithium Batteries

Leaks can cause all kinds of damage: experts

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 17, 2013 6:47 AM CST

(Newser) – Just weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal warned of the dangers of lithium batteries—and lo and behold, the batteries have taken center stage in a string of Boeing 787 mishaps. Leaky batteries are a significant fire risk, as emphasized in a blaze that lasted 40 minutes in Boston and a battery leak that prompted an emergency landing in Japan. The highly corrosive battery fluid can wreak havoc on wiring and other components, the AP reports.

That's particularly worrying given the Dreamliner's heavy dependence on electrical systems. And if the electrolyte fluid spreads, it can spark fires, cause short-circuiting, and potentially rattle the electrical signals pilots need to fly the plane, experts say. It also poses a threat to the plane's structure. The 787 uses "the same batteries that are in the electric cars, and they are running into the same problems with the 787 as the problems that have shown up in electric cars," says an engineer. But even with the planes currently grounded, Boeing says it remains "confident," with the Dreamliner's chief engineer noting that the batteries had no internal faults over 1.3 million hours of total operation.

A United Airlines Boeing 787 is parked at Narita Airport in Narita, east of Tokyo, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013.
A United Airlines Boeing 787 is parked at Narita Airport in Narita, east of Tokyo, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013.   (AP Photo/Kyodo News)
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