Friday, January 25, 2013

Fire In the Sky

Boeing 787 Dreamliner - Dream a Little Dream of...  Me

Picture yourself in a seat on a airplane,
Above far away trees, flying through ice blue skies,
Somebody shouts, and you turn so slowly,
The stewardess with red-rimmed eyes...

Hot pokers of flames both orange and red,
Lick at the ceiling above your head,
Look for the Captain with fear in his eyes,
And he's gone...

Li-ion battery in the sky on fire,
Li-ion battery in the sky on fire,
Li-ion battery in the sky on fire, ahhhhhh!

"Hey kids, do you know what time it is?" asks the man standing in front of Mrs. Dimwiddy's Fifth-grade Science class.

"Time to call School Security?" laughs the boy with a full head of red hair and more freckles than Congress has debt.

"Ha, that's a good one Tommy!" says the man as he drapes his overcoat over the back of the wooden chair and sets his briefcase on the desk in front of the classroom.  "A funny answer, but unfortunately...  NOT correct!  Would anyone else like to take a guess?" he asks.

A tall girl with straight brown hair parted down the middle asks, "Is it time for us to discuss something which has something vaguely to do with, um...  Science?  Since this is Science class, you know..."

The man at the front of the class leans down, rifles through his bag and pulls something from his open briefcase and throws it to the girl.  "Very good Carol, it DOES have something vaguely to do with Science!  And because you guessed correctly, here, have an iPhone!!!  Just, um, don't turn it on just yet, okay?"

The kids, previously half-asleep, find themselves now sitting upright in their chairs, eyes wide-open and boring in on the man and the contents of his wonderous briefcase.  Each student wonders quietly to himself: 

"Does he have more stuff in that bag of his?"  

"Will I need to declare any gifts he tosses MY way on my W-2 via a 1099-MISC for next year?" 

"Did I forget to do my Math homework?  And if I did, do I CARE?"

"Will it be taxed at the rate for non-standard income?  Oh crap, if I get anything from this guy, I'll pay more in taxes than Warren Buffett!" 

"Whoa, what's that smell?  Did Barbara's Mom pack her an egg salad sandwich again for lunch?  Smells like somebody's been cooking possum in a boy's locker room after a football game every time she does..."

"Huh, you know, with that new iPhone in her hand, Carol's kind of pretty...  Wow, I wonder if she thinks I'm pretty too???"

[Meanwhile, back in the front of the classroom...]

"Ahem, kids, look back up here, pay attention, you are about to learn valuable scientific life lessons!"  The man gestures to Mrs. Dimwiddy who walks to the light switch and flips off the lights as the overhead project glows to life in the suddenly dark room.

"You see kids, there are many things in life which you need to learn about in order to be successful in life.  There are yet other things which you must know about...  To actually stay alive."  The man steps aside as the projector hums quietly and an image fills the white board in the front of the classroom.  "This is the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  Has anyone heard of it before?"  

A short boy wearing a red plaid shirt and cargo pants jumps from his seat and shouts, "The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a modified 747-400 passenger airplane that can haul more cargo by volume than any airplane in the world.  Each Dreamliner is 235 feet, 2 inches long and has a wing span of 211.5 feet, with a cargo capacity of 65,000 square feet.   The final assembly point of the 787 is Everett, Washington."  He executes a brief bow and falls back down into his seat.  A second later he's back on his feet staring down into his hand, "Oh, and, the National Transportation Safety Board Sunday added a new twist to the high-profile probes of electrical malfunctions aboard a pair of Boeing Co.'s airliners by disclosing that the battery that caught fire on a parked Japan Airlines Co. jet earlier this month "did not exceed its designed voltage."  When finished he collapses into his seat with a huge grin on his face. 

The man at the front of the class leans back against the teacher's desk spreads his arms apart and asks the question he's been wondering since Jeff began speaking, "How did you KNOW all that?"

"I don't need an iPhone, I have a Samsung Galaxy S III, it rocks." the boy says as he holds the phone up for the visitor to see. 

"Well, yes, that is correct, the Boeing 787 has been 'lighting up' runways lately.  While no one is sure exactly WHY several of the planes have caught on fire, it appears to have something to do with the battery packs running the electrical systems on the planes.  According to the Huffington Post:

Airlines that have grounded the Boeing 787 continue to cancel flights as safety officials continue to investigate the planes' batteries to find the root cause of malfunctions that have caused an emergency landing, a fire and other problems."

Then he asks, "Can anyone think of any other modes of transportation which may be impacted by a similar battery 'issue'?" 

A hand shoots up in the back of the classroom, "Trains, because trains can be electric!  Right?", unsure of the answer, the boy in the back of the classroom retakes his seat.  He knows he won't be getting an iPhone based upon the frown on the face of the man in front of the class.

"Well, there are electric trains, but they are powered via a central generating hub, typically powered by coal or other reliable fossil fuels."  Mrs. Dimwiddy standing at the back of class clears her throat loudly at this comment.  "There are also diesel-powered trains, which can run on traditional diesel, or on environmentally-friendly 'bio-fuels' made from chicken fat, fryer grease, and the fat rendered from the bodies of Hollywood celebrities following lyposuction surgery."  he continues.

"Is that true?" asks a girl in the third row.

"Yes, Veronica, it is.  McDonald's fry oil, Burger King's 'pretty much anything on their menu', Purdue Over-Stuffer Roasters, Roseanne Barr, Gene Simmons, and / or Beyonce Knowles can each power federally-subsidized Amtrak trains.  Actually, looking at the folks listed, some can power 'more' than others. 

Jessica Simpson might get a train three yards down the track - Roseanne Barr, on the other hand, could alone pretty much power the Auto Train from Virginia to Sanford, Florida. 

Missing from this list, of course, is Michael Moore.  If this guy ever had lyposuction surgery he could power the US Navy Pacific Fleet, but I'm not sure that the military would ever buy the goo in this man's body.  And, I'm pretty sure he'd be an environmental hazard according to the strict guidelines of the EPA.  But mostly he'd be an affront the Navy personnel around the world." he concludes. 

"Can anyone else think of what type of transportation these batteries be found in?  Think "Shopping Carts with Windows" here..." as he says this he points to a Toyota Prius parked right next to the building.

"Oh, oh, oh, they use these batteries in CARS, right?" shouts a girl in the front row.

"Yes.  Yes, they do, as a matter of fact." he says as he turns back to the white board.

"Hey, Mister, where's my free phone?" the girl asks.

"Oh, gosh, sorry, I'm plum out of free phones.  Hey, how about a Fresca?" he asks, remembering the old line from Caddyshack.  "You need want a prize for answering a question for which I pointed out the answer to you?  What do you think I am, a lackey for the NEA?" 

"I think you're a cheapskate..." the girl mutters as she retakes her seat.

"Okay, yes, so we have established automobile manufacturers also use lithium-ion batteries for their hybrid and EV vehicles.  So why would we be putting batteries which can catch fire, explode, or spontaneously combust into YOUR car?" he asks.

"Because you're a LIAR?" asks the girl who 'didn't get a phone'.

"Oh, I'm sorry, you would be wrong.  I may be cheap, but I never lie." says the man as he points to a slide which has just appeared on the white board.  "This is from Wikipedia, the place from which most of you copy, um, I mean, do your independent research for your homework assignments":


In March 2007, Lenovo recalled approximately 205,000 batteries at risk of explosion. In August 2007, Nokia recalled over 46 million batteries at risk of overheating and exploding. One such incident occurred in the Philippines involving a Nokia N91, which uses the BL-5C battery.

In December 2006, Dell recalled approximately 22,000 laptop batteries from the US market. Approximately 10 million Sony batteries used in Dell, Sony, Apple, Lenovo/IBM, Panasonic, Toshiba, Hitachi, Fujitsu and Sharp laptops were recalled in 2006. The batteries were found to be susceptible to internal contamination by metal particles during manufacture. Under some circumstances, these particles could pierce the separator, causing a short-circuit.


Transport restrictions

In January 2008, the United States Department of Transportation ruled that passengers on commercial aircraft could carry lithium batteries in their checked baggage if the batteries are installed in a device. Types of batteries affected by this rule are those containing lithium, including Li-ion, lithium polymer, and lithium cobalt oxide chemistries. Lithium-ion batteries containing more than 25 grams (0.88 oz) equivalent lithium content (ELC) are exempt from the rule and are forbidden in air travel. This restriction greatly reduces the chances of the batteries short-circuiting and causing a fire.
Additionally, a limited number of replacement batteries may be transported in carry-on luggage. Such batteries must be sealed in their original protective packaging or in individual containers or plastic bags.

Some postal administrations restrict air shipping (including EMS) of lithium and lithium-ion batteries, and products containing these (for example: laptops, cell phones). Among these countries and regions are Hong Kong, Australia and Japan.

On 16 May 2012, United States Postal Service (USPS) began a ban of shipping anything that contained a lithium battery to an overseas address due to fires resulting from transport of batteries. Because of this restriction, it became exceptionally difficult to ship anything containing them to military troops or personnel stationed overseas, due to the USPS being the only method of shipment to these addresses. The ban was lifted on 15 November 2012.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner contains lithium cobalt oxide batteries which are more reactive than newer types of batteries.

"So the batteries that they're using to run critical systems on the Boeing Dreamliner today were illegal to bring on a plane prior to November 15, 2012?  And, now, they are POWERING the critical systems of the plane that they used to be banned on?" a boy from the middle row asks. 

"Ah, what a bright boy you are!  Here, have an iPad!" the man says as he lobs an iPad at the boy.  [In the front row of the classroom a girl without a phone shoots the man an icy stare...]

"But, what do they mean when they say that the Dreamliner has lithium cobalt oxide batteries which are 'more reactive than newer types of batteries?  Is this a good thing, or a not so good thing?" the boy asks.

"Well, hold on there little buddy, I've got a Mac PowerBook 4 for you!" in the front row a girl slides from her chair onto the floor where she begins to sob loudly.  "Returning once again to your homework source, Wikipedia, you will find the following information:

Thermal runaway refers to a situation where an increase in temperature changes the conditions in a way that causes a further increase in temperature, often leading to a destructive result.

It is a kind of uncontrolled positive feedback. "

"Yes, kids, the hotter the battery gets, the, um, 'hotterer it continues to get' until a 'Destructive Result' occurs..." says the man as a new slide appears on the white board.  "Like this one.  Say 'Hello' to a destructive result on a brand spanking new - Boeing 787."

"So car companies are putting these batteries into Electric and Hybrid cars too?" a boy in the back of the class asks.

"Yes, yes they are!" the man says as he begins to re-pack his briefcase and hefts his overcoat back up from the chair.

"But, why would they do this?" asks Jeff.

"Because they HAVE to.  The Federal Government issues guidelines which Automobile Manufacturers must abide by.  These are called CAFE standards.  If the automaker does not meet these mileage objectives, they will be forced to pay huge fines and the very real possibility of embarrassing stories about their companies in the Media." the man shrugs into his overcoat and begins to pull on his leather gloves.  "They are using the current battery technology because they have to do something to comply with the regulations compelled by the President and Congress.  It's cheaper to have a few lawsuit payouts from fires than it will be to pay the fines of non-compliance with CAFE guidelines."

"What?  That's it?  You tell us about this and then you leave?  What's up with that?" asks the boy peering over the display of his new Mac PowerBook. 

"Hey, kiddo, don't get mad at me because I told you about the problem - get mad at the people who DIDN'T tell you what was going on.  Start with professional News people, work your way to Congress, the NTSB, EPA, and then up to the White House.  Ask questions and demand answers of them, not from some guy who writes blog posts in his PJ's in the dead of night.  I just came here today because I heard somebody was giving away free Apple 'stuff'.  If your teacher had told me that I had to buy the gear to give away, I probably would have slept in.  Hey, here's another 'life lesson' for you, next time, ask more questions before you agree to do something for someone." the man says as he lifts his briefcase from the desk and begins walking to the door.

In the darkened classroom there is a burst of blue flame, a hint of ozone, and the scream of a girl.  "I told you to wait until I left the classroom before you turned that iPhone on...  Some of them, too, have burned up.  Looks like you got one of THOSE.  Oops.  It only takes one bad Apple to, ah, never mind."

The kids turn to watch him leave the room as the teacher switches the overhead lights back on.  "Any questions kids?" 

Hands go up throughout the classroom as the teacher leans back on her desk and lets out a long sigh.

It's going to be a long day for her.

January 25:   The FAA certified the 787 battery system even though lithium ion batteries are more susceptible to catching fire when they overheat or short-circuit than other types of batteries.
Securaplane, an Arizona company that won a contract to design a battery charger unit for the Boeing 787, had a fire in November 2006 that ignited when the battery used by an engineering technician exploded during testing, destroying the firm's labs and production building, according to a summary of findings prepared by an administrative law judge who heard a whistleblower complaint filed by the technician.

The technician went to court after he was fired.
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