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December 4, 2001
Boeing is frantically trying to save face in the wake of several electrical failures and at least one fire on several of its its much ballyhooed 787 Dreamliner airliners. Authorities in the U.S. and Japan are currently investigating the fires, and now one of the world’s best known inventors has chimed in by criticizing the battery technology onboard the planes.
All 50 of the 787 Dreamliners have been grounded, and safety investigators are focusing on the lithium ion batteries in the planes. It’s still not clear if the batteries are actually the real root of the problem, but that hasn’t stopped any less of an authority than Elon Musk from unloading on the company.
“Unfortunately, the pack architecture supplied to Boeing is inherently unsafe,” Musk wrote in an e-mail to Flightglobal. “Large cells without enough space between them to isolate against the cell-to-cell thermal domino effect means it is simply a matter of time before there are more incidents of this nature.”
Musk knows a little about the lithium cobalt oxide inside the Boeing batteries. Tesla’s vehicles also use them, although the car’s batteries contain thousands of smaller, separated cells. In Boeing’s case, the flammable chemistry is held in eight large cells. According to Musk and some other experts, that design is susceptible to thermal runaway and a domino effect in which excessive heat in one cell can cause neighboring cells to overheat and catch fire.
Tesla has developed an aerospace version of its battery design for Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9. You can read more about the Dreamliner battery over at the Wall Street Journal.