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Cessna Citation will have stronger battery than 787

Feb. 4, 2013, Wichita, Kan. - While Boeing and federal safety regulators ponder why flames and hot electrolytes shot out of lithium ion batteries on the company's flagship 787, prompting a grounding order that's now in its third week, business jet-maker Cessna is testing a new design for such batteries — one that can contain a worst-case explosion within an armored box.


February 4, 2013
By The Columbian

The new battery for Cessna's Citation jets is scheduled to fly within
months and to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration this
year.

 

A video shows what happened when engineers disabled all the battery's
protective systems, overcharged it and then deliberately ignited the
hot chemicals: Nothing more than a few wisps of smoke puffed out of the
battery box.

 

"You are basically intentionally creating a fire that will simulate a
thermal event within an individual cell, then you have to contain that
within the battery enclosure," said Ron Nowlin, vice president of
aerospace systems at EaglePicher Technologies of Joplin, Mo., which
designed and built the battery.

 

In contrast, during the recent battery fire on a 787 parked at
Boston's Logan Airport, hot electrolytes sprayed out and flames engulfed
the box, damaging structure and components around it in the electronics
bay.

 

And even when it works as planned, Boeing's approach to battery-fire
protection on the Dreamliner does not envisage the fire being entirely
contained within the battery box.

 

With the 787 grounded worldwide, Boeing is struggling to understand
why its multiple safety systems failed to prevent that Boston fire, and a
later incident where a 787 had to make an emergency landing in Tokyo
after its battery began to smolder during flight.

 

It's not known if a redesign of the 787 battery similar to Cessna's
battery would have prevented the two incidents, which have plunged
Boeing into crisis.

 

Yet such an approach might allow Boeing to stick with lithium ion technology while controlling its volatility.

Mike Sinnett, vice president of 787 systems, said the company chose
lithium ion batteries because they are light, compact and can deliver a
large amount of power in a short period of time, then recharge quickly.

No quick fix

Cessna, based in Wichita, Kan., declined to confirm information from
industry sources that it will use the EaglePicher battery, saying only
that "any future lithium ion battery usage" will be vetted by a thorough
FAA certification process.

Cessna adopted the beefed-up battery design after being burned once before by the lithium ion technology.

 

In 2011, a lithium ion battery fire destroyed a Citation jet on the
ground. Cessna and the FAA required the batteries on all planes of that
particular model to be replaced by conventional batteries.

 

EaglePicher's Nowlin said he expects the battery to be certified for the airplane this year.

 

The company's website shows a video of the battery being tested for FAA certification.

 

But this is not a quick fix for Boeing.

 

Nowlin said the battery-certification process with the FAA, starting from scratch, typically takes 18 months.

 

A Wall Street analyst, whose firm doesn't allow him to be quoted,
estimated that it would take Boeing 12 to 15 months to update the 787
battery design to the EaglePicher standard and get it certified.

How Boeing and Cessna took different paths to testing and certification is partly a matter of timing.

 

The FAA has mandated that any aircraft using high-capacity lithium
ion main batteries — whether built by Boeing, Cessna, or any other
manufacturer — must satisfy certain "special conditions."

 

To do so, the manufacturers and the FAA agree in advance exactly what
tests will satisfy them that all possible dangers from overheating are
prevented. EaglePicher's key test — proving that a battery explosion is
contained within the box — is one such certification test pre-agreed
as satisfying the FAA's conditions.