Ronny Lam


Airbus Opts for Old-Fashioned Battery

Earlier this year Boeing was experiencing a couple of (almost) fires in the batteries of their 787 Dreamliner. Both Boeing and Airbus were planning to use the newer lithium-ion batteries instead of the old nickel-cadmium. However…

It may seem strange that the two companies chose lithium-ion batteries, which are known to be as temperamental as racehorses, seeing that the savings in weight over the nickel-cadmium alternative barely amounts to that of a single passenger. But weight may not have been the primary consideration; lithium-ion batteries are still getting better, while the older ones are not; they charge faster; and they supposedly require less maintenance. The last claim has been undermined, though, by reports that the Boeing batteries had problems even before the fires in January.

I still think this is a strange story. If the problems have to do with powerusage, why do Hybrid or Electric cars don’t catch fire? The focus now is on Thermal runaway, but it is still unclear what the real rootcause of the fires was.

So Airbus now decides to choose for safety, a path Boeing could also take. But if I were Boeing I would first want to find that rootcause and then decide what to do. After all, lithium-ion batteries have a couple of advantaged over nickel-cadmium. Higher current, faster (de)charging, more power compared to weight and size.

If the weight of an iPad wins it from paper resulting in an enormous fuel saving than the lower weight of the batteries is even worth more. We will see what decision Boeing will take.