Boeing's (BA -0.6%) lithium battery problem looks to be just a bump in the road for electric car...

Boeing's (BA -0.6%) lithium battery problem looks to be just a bump in the road for electric car investors, says Seeking Alpha contributor Randy Carlson. But, if they prove to be a fire hazard because of a fundamental flaw, the bleed-over has the potential to put electric vehicle programs at some major car companies in jeopardy. It's all a question design versus technology, and if it in fact winds up being a design flaw, those electric car makers with similar battery features could wind up big losers in the race for market share.

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Comments (22)
  • Michael Fitzsimmons
    , contributor
    Comments (11851) | Send Message
    Fully electric vehicles are simply a distraction to keep Americans addicted to gasoline. What we should be building is natural gas/electric hybrids like this:



    This engine architecture was unveiled 5 years ago and still the American public and government don't have clue. It's the cleanest vehicle on the market (if you consider electric charging is still done mostly by coal), is affordable (ala the Prius), and is fueled by domestic natural gas.


    And the battery packs are small, reliable, and PROVEN. It's the same battery pack that is in the Toyota Prius.


    Why in the world we are making clean cars powered by American fuel so complicated I will never understand. The solution has been staring us right between the eyes for 5 years now...
    31 Jan 2013, 03:13 PM Reply Like
  • thomas85225
    , contributor
    Comments (552) | Send Message
    Boeing should be builting cars or planes the run on nutral gas or hot air or smoke
    What has come out of Boeing could run a fleet car or plane for the next years
    5 Feb 2013, 05:50 PM Reply Like
  • PeakOiler
    , contributor
    Comments (299) | Send Message
    When electric vehicles were being developed several years ago natural gas prices were at least 3x what they are today. The rush to electrical made a lot of sense back then, not so much now.
    31 Jan 2013, 03:28 PM Reply Like
  • Locked Down Investments
    , contributor
    Comments (1558) | Send Message
    While Nat gas would be a good short term solution due to the glut of Nat gas now available the electric car is where we will inevitably end up, sooner rather than later I suspect.
    This has a lot to do with just a better vehicle architecture than any combustion engine can ever provide. Look at the Model S, flat battery floor puts centre of gravity very low, motor between rear wheels means there is storage space in front and rear and larger crumple zones make Model S the safest and best handling sedan in the world for the money. Acceleration of electricity cannot be beat, and response time in AWD is going to make the Model X SUV the fastest, best handling and safest SUV (with most storage space) in the world as well. See how the less expensive Tesla smokes the more expensive BMW M5 here:


    Oh and did I mention the Tesla costs about 1/10th the costs to run and maintain as well?


    Supercharging network will cover all rare trips longer than 200 miles in one day.
    The combustion engine can no longer compete in the high end...this will trickle down to mainstream just as cell phones did in the mid 90's.
    Better to use all that Nat gas for large efficient power plants charging EV's rather than small inefficient Nat gas cars polluting the air in our cities and neighborhoods locally.
    Of course eventually we will all have off grid solar panels on the roof and solar paint on our houses and EV' how SolarCity, Shea (eco home builder) and Tesla are going to collaborate in the near future towards this end...starts at the high end and trickles down to everyone from there...this is a good patient business strategy.
    31 Jan 2013, 04:19 PM Reply Like
  • TikiManProd
    , contributor
    Comments (154) | Send Message
    Its VERY clear these companies need to either get in bed with Tesla Motors now, or lose the race into the future of automotive history.
    31 Jan 2013, 03:37 PM Reply Like
  • frogola
    , contributor
    Comments (105) | Send Message
    I agree with teddyg101, if that large amount of battery can be recycled, or at least last longer.
    31 Jan 2013, 05:11 PM Reply Like
  • thomas85225
    , contributor
    Comments (552) | Send Message
    electric car has been around as long as gasoline cars


    but you can pull over and stop and get out of a electric car


    you can not do that in a 787 at 30,000 fteet and half way to Japan


    Not reporting problems to the NTSB and the FAA is violation of the laws!
    The battery where change 100 times on 50 aircrafts with two battery each that in service less than years is call Chronic or that can lead to a Catastrophic problems= 787
    Its call the False Claims per the Department of Justice act,
    Product liability laws , When was Boeing going to notify the NTSB over a deflect parts or a safely problems where the safety of passenger live are at stake!
    the yellow pages is full of lawyer, Ford Pinto Gas Tanks


    Just wait on still the Stock Holder and Airlines filled there lawsuits again the 787


    Maybe Boeing could offer red hot rod flame on the side of the 787 aircraft too


    Not to worries! In the spirit of good sportsmanship Airbus will buy a 787 (an earls model aircraft) to be use as:
    a battery tester aircraft,
    APU test systems tester aircraft,
    LRU, power panel tester
    leaving the Boeing 787 paint job in intact
    31 Jan 2013, 05:31 PM Reply Like
  • Doug Beilharz
    , contributor
    Comments (25) | Send Message
    Please folks, stay on point: LI batteries igniting. The Chevy Volt uses them, and if memory serves me well, they were catching fire siting around NHTSA grounds after crash testing. Randy Carlson is on to a big story.
    31 Jan 2013, 05:49 PM Reply Like
  • Tdot
    , contributor
    Comments (9374) | Send Message
    DB - The Volt fire incident was proven to be totally unrelated to the lithium battery itself.


    The investigations conducted by GM and NHTSA came to the conclusion that the reported fire was due to mishandling of a crash test vehicle after the crash. The vehicle in question underwent a crash test which deliverately ruptured the high voltage (350V) battery case. This allowed some of the liquid coolant to dribble from the case and onto a low voltage (12V) electrical control circuit board.


    The control board, which was still powered by the 12V battery, shorted out and started to melt, producing smoke and sparks. Voltage from the high voltage lithium battery was not involved - it was just the standard typical 12V lead acid battery that all cars have for starting and operating accessories. The technicians who conducted the test forgot to disconnect the 12V battery after the test, which is a standard procedure in all such crash tests, since there is a possibility of damaged wiring harnesses shorting out within the vehicle chassis.


    Anyway after the incident, GM moved the circuit board and other electrical components away from the "splash zone" that could occur in a real world accident, and retested to show the problem was solved, preventing recurrence. GM essentially got a "bonus test", discovering the importance of keeping powered and unprotected electrical components out of the "splash zones", strengthening the battery case against ruptures, and providing a proper path for coolant to escape harmlessly in the event of a worst case collision.


    Unfortunately the media made up huge headlines and sold papers full of rash explanations by ignorant bystanders, while waiting for the real facts to come out during the investigations, making random nonsensical and amateurish correlations and comparisons to other high voltage battery incidents. They managed to lead the public to false understandings, such as we have here. Of course, once the truth came out, that was ignored and moved to the back of the newspaper that nobody reads...


    But feel free to go back and check the facts. Conspiracy theorists thrive on this sort of stuff.
    31 Jan 2013, 07:09 PM Reply Like
  • Doug Beilharz
    , contributor
    Comments (25) | Send Message
    Um, I'd rather not be lumped in with conspiracy theorists, but among a more rational cohort urging serious DOEs, both for smoking 787s and similar conundrums being agitated by computer modeling.
    4 Feb 2013, 11:06 AM Reply Like
  • GarryGR
    , contributor
    Comments (354) | Send Message
    Well said, Tdot. Unfortunately, conspiracy theories refuse to die, even after all the web of falsehoods are disproved.
    1 Feb 2013, 12:46 AM Reply Like
  • jamackay
    , contributor
    Comments (10) | Send Message
    I have a background in automotive quality programs and am familiar with the design and process FEMA (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis) documents. My interest stems from the fact that extensive planning goes on in design and manufacturing of vehicles and presumably for aircraft as well, since most of these protocols grew out of military supply programs.
    An overheated battery on an airliner is a far greater hazard than a battery pack in a car. Lithium Ion batteries have been in widespread use for a dozen years or more, in literally hundreds of million cases, with no significant tragic failures.
    The alarming factor is that aircraft might be serviced with aftermarket parts, as seems to be the case with Japan Airlines. Aftermarket parts may often be made by those not approved as suppliers. This happens in automotive, truck and off-road vehicles and in rail transportation. In every case, extensive testing and approval protocols certify parts and manufacturing processes. There are separate design and process FMEA's. The whole process is to make products safer and to prevent failures. Circumventing these rules to accept the use of non-approved aftermarket parts, especially mission critical ones could be a cause of such failures.
    1 Feb 2013, 11:12 AM Reply Like
  • Tdot
    , contributor
    Comments (9374) | Send Message
    Jmac - you may know your FMEAs, but you don't seem to know your FAAs (or Japan's Civil Aviation Bureau).


    Every one of the systems and assemblies and components installed in a commercial airliner, right down to the rivets and nuts and bolts and door handles, are carefully certified as flight ready, and suppliers are screened and tested for compliance. There are no "aftermarket parts" when it comes to flight critical hardware. Spares and replacement parts come from the certified and authorized suppliers only. All have serial or batch numbers and all the necessary paper workfor an FAA audit.


    Japan's CAB is, if anything, at least as picky as the US FAA on such matters.


    Now some nations, like perhaps China, do have a risk of a blackmarket supply of counterfeit parts made in unauthorized home-factories and such, and on rare occasions these can make it into the parts stream. But they are fairly easily to identify from replicated or improper serial/batch numbers and such.
    1 Feb 2013, 04:01 PM Reply Like
  • Doug Beilharz
    , contributor
    Comments (25) | Send Message
    So, there it is; once the FAA or CAB solves the LI/787 problems, automotive engineers can appraise the findings and replicate applicable designs into automotive applications, but it's more likely NHTSA will mandate them.
    4 Feb 2013, 11:56 AM Reply Like
  • User 7351481
    , contributor
    Comment (1) | Send Message
    Natural gas prices, like oil prices, are prone to geo-political turbulence - ex. Islamist takeover of BP's natural gas plant in Mali, Russia's dominance of natural gas supplies in Europe coupled with their less than ethical business practices, pipelines which traverse contentious neighbors like Iraq & Iran, and the anti-terrorism measures which must occur to secure LNG shipments. Electrical generation is achieved in numerous ways, and they don't always involve unique alloys. The US has been slow to embrace mass transit and larger telecommunications infrastructure so it must invest in cars which travel further using widely accessible energy sources. BA is investigating the temp & voltage monitoring systems which seem more plausible - they are moving in the right direction. If it's any indication, the Dept of Defense is investing more in electric-driven propulsion in their Zumwalt class destroyers - considering fuel costs are the among the biggest part of their operating costs, I'd say they represent what we will see in the larger world of transportation.
    4 Feb 2013, 02:51 PM Reply Like
  • GDook
    , contributor
    Comments (10) | Send Message
    Fires are dangerous and painful or deadly for those involved in them.
    The problem with the batteries will be worked out.
    The problem with people burning up in cars using gasoline will NEVER be fixed. Another vehicle went over a bank yesterday and the 2 occupants were burned to death.
    5 Feb 2013, 12:43 PM Reply Like
  • Tdot
    , contributor
    Comments (9374) | Send Message
    This remindsonee of one of the irrational fears about hydrogen fueled "Hindenberg / shuttle Challenger" vehicles running around on the freeway: fear of that nasty hydrogen igniting and exploding or something.


    The truth of the matter is, when a gasoline tank leaks after a crash and spills all over the ground, it spreads out and burns and burns and burns. Horribly.


    When a hydrogen tank leaks after a crash, there is perhaps a mighty WHOOSH; it may or may not ignite but probably not, and it rapidly expands, shooting straight up into the clouds, and dissipates. Even if it does ignite, it doesn't hang around at the surface and slowly burn everything nearby, like gasoline. Might singe your hair a bit, but massive 3rd degree burns are extremely unlikely.
    5 Feb 2013, 01:26 PM Reply Like
  • Retired34
    , contributor
    Comments (7) | Send Message
    Cost to operate a Chevy Volt


    Eric Bolling (Fox Business Channel's Follow the Money) test drove the Chevy
    Volt at the invitation of General Motors.
    For four days in a row, the fully charged battery lasted only 25 miles
    before the Volt switched to the reserve gasoline engine. Eric calculated
    the car got 30 mpg including the 25 miles it ran on the battery. So, the
    range including the 9 gallon gas tank and the 16 kwh battery is
    approximately 270 miles. It will take you 4 1/2 hours to drive 270 miles at
    60 mph. Then add 10 hours to charge the battery and you have a total trip
    time of 14.5 hours. In a typical road trip your average speed (including
    charging time) would be 20 mph.


    According to General Motors, the Volt battery holds 16 kwh of electricity. It
    takes a full 10 hours to charge a drained battery.


    The cost for the electricity to charge the Volt is never mentioned so I
    looked up what I pay for electricity.


    I pay approximately (it varies with amount used and the seasons) $1.16 per


    16 kwh x $1.16 per kwh = $18.56 to charge the battery.


    $18.56 per charge divided by 25 miles = $0.74 per mile to operate the Volt
    using the battery.


    Compare this to a similar size car with a gasoline engine only that gets 32 mpg.


    $3.19 per gallon divided by 32 mpg = $0.10 per mile. 12.5 cents at 4$ a gallon


    The gasoline powered car cost about $15,000 while the Volt costs $46,000.
    So it costs 3 times as much for a car that costs more that 7
    times as much to run and takes 3 times as long to drive across country.
    I hope the engineer that designed this is not now working at the pentagon.
    5 Feb 2013, 01:04 PM Reply Like
  • Tdot
    , contributor
    Comments (9374) | Send Message
    Retiree - Your electrical cost math is off by a factor of 10. Or else, you are getting severely raped by your electric company.


    Your Electricity is closer to 11.6 cents per kW-hr ... not $1.16



    Try again?
    5 Feb 2013, 01:31 PM Reply Like
  • fomoco
    , contributor
    Comments (9) | Send Message
    tdot, I certainly appreciate your insight and perspective in response to many issues raised in the comments by different individual investors like myself.
    5 Feb 2013, 02:44 PM Reply Like
  • RaymondMHorganSr
    , contributor
    Comment (1) | Send Message
    I hope you continue to expose thefalse understandings. You provide good data (factual) findings. Keep up the good fact finding.
    5 Feb 2013, 02:45 PM Reply Like
  • Jherlihy
    , contributor
    Comments (2) | Send Message
    The Li battery in planes has Cobalt in the electrode. This is the most dangerous of the chemistries. Li iron phosphate is safer but less volts. That is why Boeing is not using it. Johnson Controls replaced Cobalt with Magnesium and Aluminum. Much safer.


    You either have to use anode safer than graphite, such as hard carbon, or reduce igniters in electrode. Once a fire starts, it's over.
    5 Feb 2013, 02:46 PM Reply Like
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