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Power Transportation Hardware Technology

Elon Musk Offers Boeing SpaceX Batteries For the 787 Dreamliner 163

Posted by timothy
from the borry-a-cup-o'-sugar dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Boeing is currently dealing with a bit of a disaster as the company's 787 Dreamliner has been grounded due to safety concerns. Boeing is currently investigating the situation, but they aren't alone. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, has stepped in to offer his help and technology if Boeing wants it. Musk has had to harness battery tech not only to run his Tesla Motors, but also to function flawlessly aboard SpaceX spacecraft as they travel both in and out of the Earth's atmosphere. If you need a battery to work at any altitude, you'd trust Musk to supply one, and that's exactly what he's offering Boeing."
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Elon Musk Offers Boeing SpaceX Batteries For the 787 Dreamliner

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  • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Tuesday January 29, 2013 @09:29AM (#42725539) Homepage Journal
    Batteries if you must,
    In moving parts trust,
    Or with mere soap and a blade,
    Be plying your trade.
    Burma Shave
    • by Nexus7 (2919)

      Brother, you should see the moving part sin a Norelco shaver head. It would put the Bolshoi ballet to shame.

      Speaking of which, the most trouble free and long-lasting lithium batteries are in shavers. They run forever, until they die years later!

  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Tuesday January 29, 2013 @09:33AM (#42725599)

    Have to admire the guy.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah considering they figured out a week ago it was not the batteries and suspect its the control system for the batteries.

    • by sunking2 (521698)
      Kind of sad when these are the things we now admire.
    • What does this have to do with PR?

      He saw business opportunity to sell/licence the technology to another company and went after it. Yes, this opportunity may seem "outlandish" to you, but are you telling this to a guy who's company is making freakin' spaseships?

  • Won't work... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TimeandMaterials (2826493) on Tuesday January 29, 2013 @09:35AM (#42725621)
    Great idea...but this won't work. A new battery would require some redesign. All of this would need FAA & EU (forget the agency name) approval. That would take at least 8-12 months. Boeing wants the 787 flying in weeks.
    • by sys_mast (452486)

      If the same batteries are in SpaceX, wouldn't they already have some approvals?

      Maybe they would need additional for this application, but I suspect that would be the case with ANY new battery. But a unit already in use for some flight applications sounds like it should be easier to approve for another flight application, than a battery not currently used for flight.

      Not that it matters, sounds like it wasn't the batteries anyway.

      • by mbkennel (97636)

        SpaceX's rockets don't carry people, and it doesn't fly powered for 12 hours.

        • by Guspaz (556486)

          No, they fly powered for about a week and a half... Although I suppose they get power from the ISS while docked. Nonetheless, the powered flight time for a Dragon capsule between launch and docking is far longer than any commercial air flight.

          • by adamgundy (836997)

            the battery system is also "human rated", since the capsule is rated that way - astronauts are working in it once it is berthed to the ISS.

    • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

      More importantly, the SpaceX design is for batteries that are actually used, and not a backup-on-backup. Tesla/SpaceX has an interesting design (series connection of highly parallel set of cells, with active heating/cooling), but it isn't what Boeing actually seems to need. I wish more details about the Boeing (Thales/GS Yuasa/Securaplane) design does for its battery management system were available. I would have thought that the system does very frequent sweeps of cell impedance across a range of freque

    • by KJE (640748)
      EASA [europa.eu]
  • by captainpanic (1173915) on Tuesday January 29, 2013 @09:36AM (#42725641)

    TFA seems a little irrelevant since the news today says that the batteries are not the problem. Instead, the electrical systems and monitoring systems are now being scrutinized.

    Here's one article, but the internet is full of it.
    http://www.bizjournals.com/portland/morning_call/2013/01/batteries-not-a-problem-on-boeing-787.html [bizjournals.com]

    • by trout007 (975317) on Tuesday January 29, 2013 @09:52AM (#42725827)

      I'm pretty sure he wants to sell the whole package. You know he has to manage the batteries as well.

      • by vlm (69642)

        I'm pretty sure he wants to sell the whole package.

        I wonder if boeing buys from aircraft spruce and specialty like everyone else? And yes aircraftspruce.com does sell different chemistries for aviation lithium systems. Probably due to quantity Boeing goes direct to mfgr.

        They'd be infinitely more likely to go with a COTS LiFe system than jury rig somebodies Li-Ion car or rocket battery into place.

        Lithium ION can be made to blow up and you can only put those on a plane if is a LSA, ultralight, experimental... or maybe Boeing. Can anyone confirm the actuall

        • by slew (2918) on Tuesday January 29, 2013 @10:59AM (#42726795)

          The lithium battery is supplied from the Japanese company GS Yuasa. This company was chosen by Thales (the 787 subcontractor chosen by Boeing for the Electrical Power Conversion System). FWIW, this has been in the news lately as the stock of this company rose shortly after it was announced that the battery wasn't likely defective.

          You can read all about it on their website [gsyuasa-lp.com]...

          I'm an EE, but not a battery expert, but a quick glance indicates this is a fairly vanilla Lithium Cobalt Oxide Cathode technology which is the most common (probably similar to the chemistry used in your laptop or cell phone battery). Also, by all accounts these folks seem to be a competent battery supplier (they've apparently flown batteries in satellites and got a contract for the international space station).

        • by fnj (64210)

          Can anyone confirm the actually battery chemistry?

          It's lithium cobalt oxide [americanmanganeseinc.com], absolutely the most inherently dangerous there is. Not lithium manganese oxide, or LiFePO4, which would make FAR more sense. And the individual cells are not 18650s or 26650s. They are GIGANTIC [ntsb.gov] 6 pound prismatics of 75 Ah each!

          • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

            Apparently the LiFePO4 wasn't an option when they were certifying the plane. Hopefully they will switch to a more stable chemistry as a performance improvement, but one of the batteries needs to start the Auxiliary Power Unit, so it has a pretty high inrush current.

      • by PPH (736903)
        How long does it take to charge a Tesla?
        • by bentcd (690786)

          How long does it take to charge a Tesla?

          Depends on the Tesla, and on the charger. From empty to full I would say anywhere from one hour, to thirty hours.

    • by CKW (409971)

      Any battery system that is so ... intolerant of it's environment that any small falt in inputs can cause it to kill 400 people ... not worth it.

      Fires on aircraft are immediate life or death. A burning half ton Lithium battery is more like thermite. Doesn't need oxygen.

      I'm dead serious when I say this, I have an advanced hard core science degree and a I think I have damn good jugement. I know there's not much information ... but ... pardon my euphamism ... my jimmies are rustling and if they leave Li batt

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The problem is not with the batteries, the electrical system, or monitoring. It was revealed over a week ago that the problem was with protons mysteriously shrinking by over 4% causing an under-current that tripped the recharge circuits resulting in an over-current that sounded like whoosh.

    • by gr8_phk (621180)
      Funny, to me the Battery Management System (BMS) is part of the battery. It's located in the same box and has connections to every Nth cell in the chain (possibly with N=1). FYI with these large battery packs you need to monitor individual cell voltages to ensure none of them are over/under charged over their life, and every cell is a little different. Another function of the BMS can also be charge balancing between cells in the chain.

      TL;DR they're still looking at stuff inside the big burnt box.
  • Thanks, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Richard_at_work (517087) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .ecirpdrahcir.> on Tuesday January 29, 2013 @09:39AM (#42725697)

    As noted the issue was not the batteries, which have passed muster after inspection by the FAA and the NTSB - the focus now is on the charging systems and monitoring systems, as well as the related failure of the containment system.

    SpaceX may have a fantastic battery, but they still need to use a charging system designed for charging from a power source that is fairly unreliable in consistency (the four generators on the 787s engines, and the generator on the APU), a power source that is reliable but completely different in power characteristics (ground power), and be FAA certified. Not to mention that it needs to be charged and discharged on a much regular basis than that of a battery used on a booster.

    I rather think SpaceX's solution to the charging system is not compatible with that required by regular service usage of the Boeing 787.

    • by rabtech (223758)

      As noted the issue was not the batteries, which have passed muster after inspection by the FAA and the NTSB - the focus now is on the charging systems and monitoring systems, as well as the related failure of the containment system.

      Here's the thing... These batteries should have on-board controllers, with temperature and physical deformation sensors on each cell.

      Any sort of over-voltage, current over-draw, overheating, or cell bulging should trigger a temporary disconnect.

      It should be literally impossible to damage the battery, no matter what the airplane systems attempt to do to it. That is obviously not the case if they are relying on circuits external to the battery for safety.

      • by robot256 (1635039)
        Umm, what? The batteries DO have "on-board" controllers--how much more on-board can you get than putting them in the same box? It's not like you can fuse protection circuits into the lithium cells themselves, and a properly designed BMS supporting multiple cells is no different than strapping individual BMS's on each cell, and likely weighs less. It *should* be impossible to damage the battery, but it obviously *wasn't*, so now they have to take apart the box to see which part failed.
        • by fnj (64210)

          Well, actually you CAN incorporate "protection circuits into the lithium cells themselves". 18650 cells very typically have such self-resetting protection circuits inside of them to prevent Bad Things Happening as a result of a short circuit applied to the cell. Not all of them have this, but plenty of them do. These are known as "protected" cells.

          Not sure if it would be practical to have such circuits inside those gigantic 75 Ah prismatics [ntsb.gov]. Those big ass interconnect bus bars you see in there indicate they

          • by robot256 (1635039)

            Like I said, "protected" cells are nothing more than an "unprotected" cell in a box with a protection circuit [lygte-info.dk]. There is nothing magical about them, and nothing inherently better about them besides the reduced possibility for assembly error.

            Per-cell protection circuits become impossible when the pack voltage and/or current exceeds that which can be safely switched by small semiconductors or self-resetting thermal (PTC) fuses. Plus, per-cell protection circuits can malfunction just as easily as per-pack

          • by NoMaster (142776)

            Just so's you know: there's plenty of telco, solar, & other power techs out here laughing at your repeated characterisation of these batteries as "gigantic 75Ah", and those interconnects as "big ass"

            We tend to start at piddling little 75A/hr cells, & work our way upwards. 2170A/Hr is the largest I've personally worked on...

  • Publicity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sepultura (150245) on Tuesday January 29, 2013 @09:41AM (#42725717)

    The batteries have already been ruled out as the cause of the problems. It's most likely in the charging or temp monitoring systems.

    This is just Elon Musk being a bit of an asshole and drumming up publicity.

    • Re:Publicity (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kelemvor4 (1980226) on Tuesday January 29, 2013 @10:43AM (#42726545)

      The batteries have already been ruled out as the cause of the problems. It's most likely in the charging or temp monitoring systems.

      This is just Elon Musk being a bit of an asshole and drumming up publicity.

      No, he made the offer before it was publicized that the problem wasn't batteries. We've been the victim of Slashdot being slow and posting things in the wrong order. Maybe he is an assole (don't know) and I'm sure he wanted publicity out of it. However, I don't see anything wrong with his offering to help.

      • by bentcd (690786)

        Not to mention that Musk presumably considers the charging and temperature monitoring systems as an integral part of any sensible Lion battery design. Those are exactly the two things Tesla has done perfectly right, after all. (The chemical cells themselves, Tesla just buys in from an external supplier.)

  • by hcs_$reboot (1536101) on Tuesday January 29, 2013 @09:47AM (#42725769)
    It would be interesting to know why Boeing didn't choose Tesla in the first place, and selected a Japanese company instead. Maybe because of a "you take our batteries, we buy your planes" deal?
    • by chaim79 (898507) on Tuesday January 29, 2013 @10:23AM (#42726231) Homepage

      Maybe because of a "you take our batteries, we buy your planes" deal?

      More likely then you might think. I work in the aviation industry and crap like that is what you have to deal with once you become an international organization. We (the engineers) just learned recently that India has put in place regulations that if you want to sell planes in that market (which is a huge market) you have to use India-based work for a minimum of 20% of the development/manufacturing effort spread across all parts of the project. Which is why we now have an India-based office who gets to play in all sorts of projects... and which we have to cleanup after in all sorts of projects.

    • by mbone (558574)

      It would be interesting to know why Boeing didn't choose Tesla in the first place, and selected a Japanese company instead. Maybe because of a "you take our batteries, we buy your planes" deal?

      Maybe because Tesla does not make the batteries that they use? Why not buy from, you know, the actual vendor?

      • by bentcd (690786)

        Maybe because Tesla does not make the batteries that they use? Why not buy from, you know, the actual vendor?

        Tesla makes the batteries, but not the individual cells. Their main strength is in the charge and temperature management systems.

  • by Radak (126696) on Tuesday January 29, 2013 @10:02AM (#42725937) Journal

    At least it was Tesla/SpaceX making the offer, and not Fisker [jalopnik.com].

  • Publicity stunt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MetalliQaZ (539913) on Tuesday January 29, 2013 @10:05AM (#42725967)

    Elon knows very well that you can't simply swap out batteries on a passenger jet. The entire system is subject to rigorous (and expensive) certification that would be tossed out the window if you simply started swapping parts. That's to say nothing of the supplier issues.

    In any case yesterday I believe Japanese investigators announced that no fault whatsoever was found with the battery, and instead they were looking into the electronics.

    This is just a stunt to bolster is company's profile.

    • by berashith (222128)

      Will things move faster if a modification is put in place that is provided by Boeing than a modification that is put in place by Boeing that is supplied from a third party. It seems that some parts are going to have to be re-worked, and the scope of the replacement will determine the re-certification more than the source of the mods. We can also call into question the rigor of the original certification process at this point.

    • by Lehk228 (705449)
      fukishima was less than two years ago, have you learned anything about trusting Japanese "investigators"? they would have reported no problems if every battery they tested blew up.
    • In any case yesterday I believe Japanese investigators announced that no fault whatsoever was found with the battery, and instead they were looking into the electronics.

      I would take this with a grain of salt. Japanese investigators have been found to whitewash problems in other situations - Fukushima, for example. The culture is apparently so attuned to avoiding loss of face that it's hard to actually criticize one's own, in this case the maker of the batteries. IMHO the conclusion that the batteries were not at fault was remarkably quick.

      • by AaronW (33736)

        I agree with you in this case, especially since the company that makes the batteries is Japanese. It's all about saving face.

    • Human Space certification IS HARD. And that is more so considering that some within NASA are opposed to private space. As such, NO SAFETY EXCEPTIONS were made for SpaceX. OTOH, all of NASA's and RSA's vehicles would flunk if they had to pass the same thing.
      And considering that li-ion batteries are well known for fires, then you can bet on it, that this was fully tested by NASA and possibly FAA. Keep in mind that FAA is the ones regulating private space and are checking over the various crafts.

      As to the
  • The quality and reliability specs for FAA far exceeds space craft specs. For FAA passenger safety is the highest factor. For space craft weight is the highest factor. Spacecraft necessarily trade off safety for weight. At least NASA does not have as much cost constraints as private spacecraft consortia. So it would spend what it takes to get high safety at low weight. It would not go about jury-rigging automobile batteries, which themselves were jury-rigged laptop batteries into space craft. To me it looks
    • IANA A+P mechanic, but I think the differences are not that simple. Space-qualified equipment has to handle much higher acceleration and shock and IIRC wider temperature range and atmospheric environment. FAA may require more paperwork, and probably a longer testing regime? But aside from the weight, especially since the various Shuttle problems, I suspect NASA requirements have become much stricter, even taking into account the weight considerations. Weight is a factor in aviation as well, although no

  • When I first heard of the battery/charging issues. I thought they should contact Tesla Motors and GM's Volt team. Between the three companies they'd work it out.

  • by mattr (78516) <mattr&telebody,com> on Tuesday January 29, 2013 @10:16AM (#42726121) Homepage Journal

    Elon Musk's actual tweet: "Desire to help Boeing is real & am corresponding w 787 chief engineer. Junod's Esquire article had high fiction content." 3 days ago

    All the rest about whoring, nothing if not a PR wiz, it's the wiring and control not the batteries, etc. is all a huge raft of solid bullshit, thanks Slashdot I don't get enough in my day job!!

    Look, IANAEE but temperature and voltage control is apparently an integral part of these batteries. Even if the circuit is a 100m away and not inside the battery pack itself, or You can't just say it is the battery he's whoring, etc. Elon Musk has a huge amount of practical experience with this technology and nothing bad can come from offering to talk over their problems with Boeing, as he is doing. Nothing bad except of course, all this crazy dipshit hater stuff, starting apparently with an Esquire article and continuing into slashdot. Probably he could give them an idea of what to look for, or offer an alternate circuit design that is already FAA approved, etc. You'd have to be an idiot to turn down an offer to at least talk. Honestly it is amazing how the crap-fest volume approaches infinity immediately after a rare tweet from Mr. Musk. Who is a guy who actually accomplishes things.

    • by fnj (64210)

      +1; a thousand times +1. Your post is worth about 70 of the 78 comments currently showing on this topic.

    • by swillden (191260)

      Honestly it is amazing how the crap-fest volume approaches infinity immediately after a rare tweet from Mr. Musk. Who is a guy who actually accomplishes things.

      Derision has become the normal slashdot attitude towards people who do things. Particularly if they make large amounts of money doing things.

  • Offering help as a way of dissing your competitor? Kinda tacky, Elon. Reminds me of the old joke:

    "How many sopranos does it take to change a light bulb?"
    "Two. One to climb the ladder, and the other to say 'if that's too high for you, honey, I'll get it.'"

  • SpaceX may have battery technology that Boeing could use, but this sounds like a sales job to me, and that's being polite. It did get Elon Musk in the news, which I suspect was the real purpose here.

    Note that altitude has nothing to do with the battery problems.

    The Tesla batteries are individually small units - basically, repurposed laptop batteries stacked together. Tesla does not make them. And, they have been known to have problems, which Tesla has had to engineer around. Putting them in a 787 almost cer

    • So... you say Tesla doesn't make batteries, but has experience "engineering around" known battery problems.

      Meanwhile, Boeing has determined that it's not the batteries that are their problem, but the bits of engineering around them. And Musk is offering their whole technology package to Boeing, not just the battery cells alone.

      What's so loadful about that?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Tesla spent years working on Lithium Ion batteries, were the first ones to beat the thermal runaway problem when it was still a laptop battery issue and has an in house battery lab for testing these things. Their battery supplier invested in Tesla because they were learning so much from what Tesla was breaking and rejecting from them and why. Musk was very involved with the battery issues on the early roadsters and the technical teams between SpaceX and Tesla should be very knowledgeable.

        Clearly GP probably

    • The Tesla batteries are individually small units - basically, repurposed laptop batteries stacked together. Tesla does not make them. And, they have been known to have problems, which Tesla has had to engineer around.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battery_(electricity) [wikipedia.org]

      "In electricity, a battery is a device consisting of one or more electrochemical cells that convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy."

      Sounds like connecting a bunch of cells they don't actually manufacture into a battery, and basically successfully dealing with the side effects, management, and other issues involved in stringing together a battery of cells. How are they not qualified to make batteries?

      • by mbone (558574)

        If you want to argue nomenclature, go head but count me out - if you have portable radio and put in 3 AAA batteries, would you say that you installed 3 batteries or 1 battery with 3 cells ? I would say 3 batteries. If you want to call them 1 kumquat with 3 aardvarks, or whatever, feel free.Note that the Tesla aardvarks occasionally explode, and one of their technological innovations was stacking them so that the entire kumquat doesn't go up when they do. I don't see this as that relevant to Boeing's issue

        • by dgatwood (11270)

          Three batteries. However, if you have a cordless phone that has three cells soldered together and wrapped in shrink plastic, and you unplug the lead and plug in a new one that you bought at Wal-Mart, you replaced a battery even though you replaced three cells.

          A battery (or, often, battery pack) is a unit of end-user (or at least maintenance technician) connection. It can contain one cell (e.g. a AA battery) or multiple cells (e.g. a laptop battery). What makes it a battery is that an average person can r

        • Open up your laptop battery. What you'll find is probably a bunch of AA cells wired together with a controller.

          • not anymore. Used to be that way, but with li-ion, it is a packet of material. You still need protection circuitry, etc in there. That is what is in these batteries now.
    • mbone, you should know better.

      Tesla MAKES their own batteries, as well as the charger/protection circuitry/etc. What they do not make, are the cells. They take the li-ion package and use that in a battery BUT, all else they make.
      I seriously doubt that the airframe will require change. The current batteries are accessible so, I doubt that it will require to much change. About the only issue MIGHT be HVAC, though I doubt it. I would think that the current batteries had to have some level of cooling/ventila
  • Rockets and spacecrafts are considered experimental vehicles by the standard of the aerospace industry. They have nowhere near the reliability of airliners, if only because the number of flights and hours of flight required to certify an airliner dwarf what any family of spacecraft experiences during its entire operational lifetime.

    Besides, SpaceX has sill not begun regular commercial operation. Their ability to maintain a schedule and attain their cost and reliability objectives is totally unproven at thi

    • Besides, SpaceX has sill not begun regular commercial operation.

      Umm.. you are incorrect, sir.. The last SpaceX launch was the first of the NASA contracted supply missions to ISS.. They most certainly HAVE begun commercial operation.. The first mission to ISS was a combination mission which was originally intended to be a simple fly-by, with a second grapple/dock mission. It was decided to combine the two.

  • another Musk company
  • subject should read: "Elon Musk Offers Boeing SpaceX Batteries For the Free Publicity"

  • For anything to be attached to the ISS, they have very exacting standards. Much more difficult than FAA. In fact, the biggest fear in space IS fire. Now, NASA and RSA have made all sorts of exceptions for their own crafts. BUT, to the best of my knowledge, NO SAFETY EXCEPTIONS have been made for SpaceX. As such, I would suspect that bringing up a li-ion battery had to be proven to all that it was safe in space. After all, if a fire occurs on dragon, it is still a major threat while it is BERTHED at the ISS

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