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Boeing 787 Batteries Same As Those In Electric Cars? Umm, NO

Gird yourself: It’s possible we’re about to see a new wave of attacks on electric cars that ignore battery science.

This time the culprit is the troubled Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. The FAA has grounded all 787s after a string of fires in their lithium-ion battery packs; other countries have done the same.

Which has led at least one supposedly authoritative commentator to say that Boeing is having the same battery problems as those “that have shown up in electric cars.”

The problem is that the two types of batteries are, in fact, quite different.

Here’s the offending quote, from Paul Czysz, professor emeritus of aeronautical engineering at St. Louis University, as cited in a Boston Herald article this morning:

“Unfortunately, what Boeing did to save weight is use the same batteries that are in the electric cars, and they are running into the same problems with the 787 as the problems that have shown up in electric cars.”

The author of the Boston Herald piece then went on to describe a 2011 fire in a Chevy Volt crash-test car that occurred several days after it was wrecked and rotated through 360 degrees by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In January 2012, the NHTSA closed an investigation into Volt fires, concluding that “no discernible defect trend exists” and that “modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts.”

Here’s the problem: While the battery cells in Boeing 787s and, say, Chevrolet Volts are both in the lithium-ion family, they use very different chemistries.


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