Elon Musk, the entrepreneurial force behind Tesla Motors and SpaceX, who surely knows a thing or two about lithium-ion batteries, has offered unspecified aid to aviation giant Boeing, whose flagship 787 Dreamliner remains grounded after a pair of battery-related incidents.
“Desire to help Boeing is real & am corresponding w 787 chief engineer,” Musk tweeted this week.
You would hardly expect a giant multinational to comment on whether they have accepted advice from the head of a Silicon Valley startup, and Boeing did not. Musk, however, was happy to expand on the subject in an email to Reuters.
“We fly high capacity lithium ion battery packs in our rockets and spacecraft, which are subject to much higher loads than commercial aircraft and have to function all the way from sea level air pressure to vacuum,” Mr Musk told Reuters. “We have never had a fire in any production battery pack at either Tesla or SpaceX.”
US and Japanese authorities are still investigating the incidents. Business Insider reported this week that the Japanese transport ministry has found no issue with the battery cells. Attention is now turning to other components of the battery packs.
The super-fuel-efficient 787 could almost be described as a hybrid plane, as it uses electricity for various tasks for which other airplanes use hot air vented through internal ducts. To feed its many energy-guzzling gadgets, the plane uses two lithium-ion battery packs made by the Japanese company GS Yuasa Corp.
When the story first broke, some in the press hastily drew a comparison to the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles. However, as John Voelcker of Green Car Reports explained, lithium-ion batteries come in many different types, which can have very different properties. The battery cells in the 787 use a cobalt oxide (CoO2) chemistry, which is more susceptible to overheating than the chemistries used in most EVs (the lone exception is the Tesla Roadster, which is no longer made).
Image: jurvetson (flickr)
Sources: AP, Reuters, Green Car Reports