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February 13, 2013

Lithium-Ion Batteries will be Kept on F-35 Fighter Jets: Pentagon

By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor

Lithium-ion batteries will be kept on the new F-35 fighter jets – even though “similar” batteries have created problems for civilian airliners.

Battery problems have forced Boeing’s (News - Alert) 787 airliner (known as the Dreamliner) to remain on the ground. Airbus may choose not to use that category of battery on its A350 jet, given recent issues.

Joe DellaVedova, a Defense Department spokesman, told Reuters that the lithium-ion batteries used on the jet-fighter were made by another company than the ones found on the 787 airliner.

"The bottom line is the lithium-ion batteries used on the F-35s have been through extensive tests and have redundant systems to protect the aircraft and battery compartments; they are considered safe," DellaVedova added in the Reuters (News - Alert) article.

One issue for the military jet is that the lithium-ion batteries did not always work perfectly in the cold. Space heaters are being used to warm the area near the batteries on cold days.

The batteries in the civilian aircraft may have been connected to a fire that broke out in a 787 at Boston's Logan International Airport and an incident with an airplane in Japan. The Boston incident was related to an electrical fire. The Japanese incident was related to a battery overheating.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is examining the “total design” of the Boeing 787 battery. It was made by GS Yuasa Corp for Thales SA. Two lithium-ion batteries on the F-35 are built by Saft (News - Alert) Groupe SA.

If the lithium-ion batteries on the F-35 were scrapped, they could be replaced by nickel-cadmium batteries.

Recently, the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah Hersman, said the lithium-ion batteries used on Boeing’s 787 “are not necessarily unsafe … but manufacturers need to build in reliable safeguards,” according to a report from The Associated Press.

“We are evaluating assessments that were made, whether or not those assessments were accurate, whether they were complied with and whether more needs to be done,” she said. “I think that is important before this airplane is back in the air, to really understand what the risks are and that they’re mitigated effectively.”

Meanwhile, a trade group, the Portable Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA), this week issued a statement about the safety of lithium-ion batteries.

“News stories that equate cargo shipments of lithium ion batteries with those lithium ion batteries used to power aircraft are fundamentally wrong and mislead the public,” the statement read. “Misinformation about lithium ion batteries abounds. … It is absolutely critical to understand the world of difference between the millions and millions of lithium ion batteries and products containing them that are safely packaged and transported on aircraft every year and the much larger lithium ion aircraft batteries that were actively being used as a power source onboard Boeing's Dreamliner during the recently reported incidents.”

“The batteries on the Dreamliner actively charge and discharge on the aircraft. As investigators are learning, these batteries are part of an extremely complex aircraft electrical system involving wiring, chargers, monitors and controlling units, to name just a few. Lithium ion batteries and the products containing them, as well as aircraft batteries, are not charged and discharged during transport and must be packaged, labeled and shipped in accordance with robust international transportation regulations that became effective this year and are typically more stringent than previous U.S. Department of Transportation requirements,” the statement continued.

The trade group also said in a recent statement that lithium-ion batteries are used in notebook computers, mobile phones, tablets, medical devices and military equipment, as well as electric and hybrid-electric vehicles. 

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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