A few people have asked if the Boeing Dreamliner being grounded over a lithium battery fire has given us any cause for alarm, considering our bus is also equipped with a lithium battery bank.
Unfortunately, none of the media coverage of the Boeing Dreamliner issues have bothered to give much technical information on the batteries and what went wrong, other than that the “cutting edge lithium ion battery bank” was the heart of the billion dollar failure.
But as mentioned in my posts on the advantages of lithium batteries, not all lithium battery chemistries are created equal. I’ve been very curious to learn more about what went wrong with the Dreamliner, and whether it might apply to the type of batteries that we use.
I went and did some digging on the Dreamliner batteries – and discovered that the Dreamliner batteries are actually Lithium Cobalt cells, not Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4 aka LFP) like we are using.
Lithium Cobalt cells have a higher energy density than LiFePO4, but they lack the inherent safety and non-flamibility of LiFePO4 batteries.
From what I have been able to gather, the Dreamliner batteries were actually designed and specced and certified for use in 2008 – before LFP batteries were in such widespread production. I imagine that if Boeing were doing the Dreamliner design today, they would very likely be considering an LFP design instead of Lithium Cobalt. But airliner design requires locking these sorts of decisions in WAY in advance, and once something is certified it is very difficult to change – even if something substantially better comes along.
Since it appears that there is no quick fix on the horizon for the current Dreamliner battery, this crisis with cobalt cells failed may just force Boeing into fast-tracking a new LFP design anyway. There is a good chance that the entire Dreamliner fleet may remain grounded until a new battery design is worked out.
BTW – while researching the latest on lithium house battery bank installs, I came across a fabulous very in-depth technical writeup by Bob Ebaugh about his project to install a 1200Ah 12V lithium battery bank into his beautiful 44′ cruising trawler Mar Azul.
He actually used the same cells and Elite Power Solutions EMS that we did – and he did a beautiful job with his installation. If you want to geek out on batteries, check it out!
Other Posts In this Series on Lithium Ion Batteries for RVs:
Promise of Lithium #1: Lead Acid Battery Downsides
Promise of Lithium #2: Lithium Ion Battery Advantages
Promise of Lithium #3: Lithium RV Battery System Cost Analysis
Boosted Electrons = Better Views
A Year on Lithium – A 1 Year Follow-Up
Our YouTube Video Seminar on Lithium Ion Batteries for RVs
All our Lithium Ion Battery Posts