Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Li-Ion Battery 101 From The NTSB.

The battery simplified. In order to not oversimplify Boeing’s  battery with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determination regarding its battery fires, and mishaps, it is an attempt to lay out what went wrong during 2013 and what the state of the Boeing battery is today. I have in other blogs attempted an objective understanding of battery woes, particularly the Lithium-ION monster that grounded Boeing. Since they are the world’s largest airplane maker in sales and production at this time, Boeing bet the bank on its LI battery problem. They willed a resolution from its failure. The NTSB came back and pointed fingers at the Battery manufacturer GS Yuasa, FAA, and Boeing.
I have learned several things of importance from the NTSB.

1.       At the time of testing and development the NTSB was not involved and could not help.

2.       FAA was well out of its technical scope giving oversight to both Boeing and GS Yuasa.

3.       FAA deferred from its own battery technology weakness, to both GS Yuasa and Boeing when they in return presented to the FAA engineering solutions. FAA did not have the expertise to give oversight.

4.       In this gap of expertise for both Boeing and FAA they deferred to the battery manufacturer when that manufacturer had never before built an airline battery of this stature until the 787.

5.       A cascading event leading to the battery failure was about to expose the depth of everyone involved knowledge, and its understanding of battery failure concerning a mitigation process for inherent risks. The NTSB has the high ground in this case, and they have spoken even though Boeing has installed battery safety through measures enumerated in 2013.

Below is a flow for resolving battery risk without knowing a precise moment of failure and its cascading consequences.

GS Yuasa did not meet a high enough standard of battery production, consistent to aviation risks. Impurities were allowed-in or missed during processing this battery’s substrate. Faults and flaws within the battery would lead to failure eventually. They have currently upped its aviation battery standards since 2013. Aviation LI-ION batteries now follow a tight standard and production protocol mitigating any impurities previously found in the battery.
The “Boeing Safe Battery system” is safer than any electronics battery found on equipment today.
Boeing engineering set voltage regulation too high at first, when sending electricity from its generators.  The Boeing problem: inputs electrical flow into the battery having a wide range of voltage spikes, beyond what would be safe, for a vulnerable battery not aware of  “shorting worthy impurities”. It was a big unaware of risk for Boeing during early testing and commercial service. Boeing has seen to it by narrowing and regulating the voltage spikes coming into the battery, which makes it safe for the battery, and will not cause shorting found within a battery impure substrates.

Boeing doubled down by encasing the battery with a stainless steel housing. It robs the battery encasement from oxygen, therefore no fire potential just battery heating. Further it vents the battery encasement by going outside the airplane where any toxic gases produced during a battery crises is dumped safely from the crew and passengers. Boeing presented a worst case scenario to both the FAA and NTSB, demonstrating a total battery pack failure, fire, or explosion. Showing it completely contained at all times. Plane flies on until safely landing. Only the airline deals with the mishap not the passengers during flight.  

The NTSB is concurring with what both GS Yuasa, battery maker, and Boeing on product saftey, while pointing its finger on Boeing and GS Yuasa for its failures. Both were out there winging it with battery technology without having federal governance (FAA) who was or is incapable of giving oversight with this technology. It is an emerging technology, where no one has gained an “arms around it” mastery. Boeing has corralled it in a safe area good enough for extremely safe flying for its customers. The good news is that aviation is using the Li-ion battery in its current evolution which will spur on further and complete mastery over battery development. On my first DC-3 ride, I remember watching sparks coming out the engine cowling, like we were on fire. We were flying over the continental divide. I felt I was in a “Lost Horizon” movie going into Tibet. It was winter and it was snowing, but the sparks have been long replaced by the likes of the 737, 777 and 787.