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FAA Reports Heat In Cargo Holds Can Ignite Laptop Batteries 103

Posted by timothy
from the so-heat-ignites-things dept.
SpuriousLogic writes "US aviation officials are warning air carriers that new research shows lithium batteries are sensitive to heat and can ignite in-flight if transported in cargo compartments that get too hot. The Federal Aviation Administration also acknowledged publicly for the first time Friday that a United Parcel Service 747-400 plane that crashed in Dubai last month killing both pilots was carrying a large quantity of lithium batteries. Since the early 1990s, there have been dozens of incidents of batteries igniting in flight. But it has not been known what triggered many of the fires. FAA now says recent research has identified heat as the trigger and is offering air carriers advice on how to reduce the risk of fire."
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FAA Reports Heat In Cargo Holds Can Ignite Laptop Batteries

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  • Last time I looked (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jra (5600) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @01:27AM (#33843572)

    You couldn't ship pets as cargo without special handling *cause the cargo compartments weren't heated*, and got down to 40F or below.

    I find these conflicting reports most conflicting.

  • RTFA? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nmb3000 (741169) <nmb3000@that-google-mail-site.com> on Saturday October 09, 2010 @01:49AM (#33843634) Homepage Journal

    Wow, so apparently TFS == TFA (which in turn is nothing but a copypasta of an AP release [google.com] from earlier today. Is there really no more information on this? For example, how hot is too hot? My laptop gets pretty freaking hot sometimes and I'd guess a fair bit of that heat finds its way into the battery.

    Doing some quick looking, I came across a study which exposed lithium batteries to fire and heat [faa.gov] (PDF). On page 32-34 it says (paraphrased):

    - Heated cells vent flammable electrolyte gas
    - Cells begin venting at approx 470-500 Deg F
    - The electrolyte gas occasionally exploded
    due to hot surface ignition
    - Cells produce a pressure pulse when venting
    - As little as four cells can raise the pressure in a
    sealed 10m cubed chamber by one psi.

    Kind of interesting. It looks like I probably don't need to worry about my laptop's head igniting the battery, but it does sound like either some batteries are a lot more susceptible to heat, or airplane cargo compartments get really hot. I would guess a lot of other stuff doesn't like being stored at those kinds of temperatures either. A quick look indicates most plastics melt at about 300-450 degrees F [machinist-materials.com]. In fact, ABS plastic (usually used in laptop battery enclosures) melts even lower at 221 degrees F [dynalabcorp.com].

    ~500 degrees F is hot.

  • by Brett Johnson (649584) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @02:02AM (#33843662)
    Several months ago, on a flight from Virginia to California, a zip-lock bag containing spare batteries for my phone and camera and several power&usb cables "disappeared" from my luggage. At first I thought I had left it behind, but that turned out not to be the case. A couple of months later, I had a nearly identical zip-lock bag in my carry-on (sans the camera battery, which I have not yet replaced). I was pulled aside for "extra scrutiny" specifically because of this bag. The TSA agent removed it, re-ran my luggage, and returned it to me. I can only deduce that the TSA "stole" my batteries and cables on the earlier journey, because nothing looks more like a bomb that a Nokia cell phone battery and a USB cable.
  • Reminds me of the (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AHuxley (892839) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @02:33AM (#33843734) Homepage Journal
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_African_Airways_Flight_295 [wikipedia.org]
    A South African commercial flight (Flight 295/The Helderberg) suffered a catastrophic in-flight fire in the cargo area and crashed into the Indian Ocean.
    Parts recovery from the Boeing 747-244B Combi was at a depth of 4,900 metres (16,100 ft).
    What caused the hot fire was never really exposed even after the change of government.
    South Africa might have needed exotic at the time new air defence devices ie new/parts for High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles?
  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @04:45AM (#33844056)

    The distinction between Lithium Ion and Lithium Metal batteries is by no means made clear in the FAA report. [faa.gov] After reading through it, I have to disagree with others who suggest that this doesn't affect laptop batteries. It does.

    Sorry, there may well be, (somewhere) a few government workers who have not been driven insane through the repeated need to exist in an increasingly cognitively dissonant state, but it's a solid bet that they are few and far between. Not counting those who are outright sociopaths, of course.

    ANY advisory coming from the government is liable to be false, spin, or otherwise manipulative in nature. In this case, I think, it's probably a set-up for future controls.

    It should also be noted that batteries on their own can't burst into flame due to environmental heating in a cargo bay. (It's COLD up there at 10,000 feet!) The FAA report was only talking about batteries catching alight in an already existing fire.

    But that's not the way the media story tracked. Everybody assumed batteries burst into flame of their own volition. Public impression and emotional reactions are far more important than facts today. No doubt the idea of over-charged batteries bursting into flame will be floated by alarmists.

    Just another way to put the squeeze on travelers. International travel will soon require that you navigate several paradoxical gauntlets just to get seated. Best to just stay at home where you won't see what the outside world is really like.

    Fascist nations never like their people to travel. This is the same thing, with one subtle difference; they're trying to sneak it by as a series of rational measures we all voluntarily agree with rather than force it upon us overtly.

    -FL

  • by mysidia (191772) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @05:09AM (#33844110)

    How hot are we talking about? The safe maximum operating temperature for discharging a Lithium ion battery is typically 140 degrees Fahrenheit. There's no place on Earth that gets that hot naturally....

    Typically 140 degrees, but this is pretty close to the max temperature for survival of the battery. Just because this temp is in the "operating range" does not mean the temperature is safe, and won't contribute to thermal runaway, where pressure on a cell caused by heat and voltage causes the cell to burst

    "Safe operating values" may not be the same in flight, also: the plane is in motion, and the cargo hold may be subject to air pressures you don't find naturally anywhere on earth's surface.

    Lower air pressure surrounding the sealed cell might increase the chance that high pressure in a cell of the battery can explode or spoil the seal.

    The temperature in the cargo hold can also be unnatural. Planes have electronics that produce heat, the skin of the plane absorbs some heat, and heat can accumulate if there is no air conditioning -- leading to the cargo hold becoming a quite unnatural oven in some case.

  • The FAA does. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 09, 2010 @06:44AM (#33844270)

    Metal Lithium batteries!=Lithium-Ion batteries used in laptops. Metal Lithium batteries are too dangerous to be used in laptops.

    Metal lithium batteries are a Class 9 Miscellaneous Dangerous Good as well as Cargo Aircraft Only. As such they must be on the NOTOC (notice to captain) and cannot be on passenger aircraft.
    Lithium ion batteries are also Class 9 Miscellaneous, but depending on the size of the battery, number of batteries per individual box, packaging and so on can either be classified as being an excepted quantity (meaning they are not listed on the NOTOC) or they will show up on the NOTOC.

    The loophole is that you can have, for example, a 5000 pound pallet or container full of cellphones or laptops with batteries, but since they're all individually packed in separate boxes they can each count separately as an excepted quantity and go unreported to the captain and are unlisted on haz-mat summaries.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 09, 2010 @07:35AM (#33844382)

    How hot are we talking about? The safe maximum operating temperature for discharging a Lithium ion battery is typically 140 degrees Fahrenheit. There's no place on Earth that gets that hot naturally....

    Try the inside of a parked car sitting out in the summer sun. The same principle applies to a cargo plane sitting out on the tarmac at an airport in the desert sun.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 09, 2010 @07:43AM (#33844396)

    Lut Desert in Iran regularly tops 150F, mate.

    That would be a bad place to store your laptop batteries.

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