Thursday, January 17, 2013

Could Our Technology Have Helped the 787 Dreamliner Avoid the Battery Issues?

Li-Ion battery from the 787 Dreamliner that had an electrical
fire at Boston's Logan International Airport. Photo released
by the National Transportation Safety Board.
We’ve been asked an interesting question: could our nanoparticle technology have prevented the recent battery problems on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner? 

In case you’ve haven't heard, Boeing 787 Dreamliner passenger jets were grounded in the US by the FAA Wednesday, and now they are grounded globally over some battery problems linked to a fire in Boston and resulting in an emergency landing in Japan. The batteries in question were lithium-ion (Li-Ion) – and it appears as though the company that supplied the battery used a LiCoO2 cathode (this according to an article in MIT Technology Review). 

Now, stay with me here . . . Li-Ion batteries can be made from different cathode materials. LiCoO2 is used more than others because it can store a lot of energy. 

But, there are safety concerns with LiCoO2; it’s relatively unstable and overcharging could result in a fire.  You might have heard about laptop batteries catching fire in the past.

Is this what happened on the 787s? We don’t know yet. You wouldn’t think so because LiCoO2 has been used for a long time and, usually, there are some safety devices built-in to prevent overcharging.

Still, there are alternatives to LiCoO2. One is LiMn2O4; it is safer and less expensive. But, it isn’t widely used because it tends to quickly lose energy after repeated charges and discharges, especially when it’s in hotter environments.

Our nanoparticle coatings are aimed at solving this issue and allowing the use of LiMn2O4 instead of the less safe, and more expensive, LiCoO2.

This is important stuff – the National Science Foundation (NSF) has given us two grants to develop this technology, and we’ve had multiple meetings with battery manufacturers about it. There’s a ton of interest in the industry regarding our solution.

The success we’ve had with these nanoparticle coatings, and the fact that they could open the door to the widespread use of safer, less expensive Li-Ion battery materials, may be a game-changer in this area.

An abstract on our technology can be found here: