How can Boeing make the 787's lithium-ion batteries safer?

Feb 12, 2013

Airbus may back away from using lithium-ion batteries on its next generation plane. Does that mean Boeing needs to do the same on its Dreamliner? Not necessarily, according to an expert at MIT.

Boeing has hundreds of people working overtime to figure out why the lithium-ion batteries on its Dreamliner are more prone to smoke or fire than the company had thought.

Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel says the company has used lithium-ion batteries in satellites for almost a decade and that they made the most sense for the fuel-efficient, light-weight 787.

MIT professor and battery expert Donald Sadoway says the company doesn’t have to ditch lithium-ion. He says they’re working fine in the Chevy Volt electric car.

"How come General Motors can build a battery that’s safe and thousands of them out there to a Chevy price point and we can’t build something to a Boeing price point?" Sadoway said.

He says the one Chevy Volt battery fire that did happen occurred after a crash and wasn’t due to a design problem. Sadoway says Boeing needs to put more space between the cells in the battery to prevent fires from spreading and have a better sensor so that the flight crew can disable a cell if the temperature starts to spike.

This week, federal investigators urged tighter scrutiny of lithium-ion batteries in airplanes.