Wednesday, March 11, 2015

MH370 Lithium Batteries Speculation

[So, the underwater locator beacon's battery had expired. But the plane was carrying 221kg of Lithium-ion batteries. Maybe they should've plug those into the beacon... 

Anyway, now the focus is on the batteries. How might this have incapacitated the plane and the crew? (the theory is in the end of this very long post - extract of the possible timeline)
This accident would require a coincidence of timing.
1:07 ACARS transmit status. Lithium Batteries are venting fumes that are filling the cabin, and the cockpit. Crew and passengers are breathing the fumes, but effects are delayed.
1:19 Co-pilot sends last voice contact to KL ATC, and switches radio to Vietnam ATC channel. Batteries ignite. Fire suppression system not yet activated. Smoke starts to fill cargo.
1:22 Fire damages electronics bay and AIMS which disables transmitter/Transponder (and perhaps ACARS). Fire suppression system activates and puts out fire, but without water, the batteries continue to overheat and possibly re-ignite. Halon is again activated and puts out the fire. This can continue to repeat (overheat-ignition-extinguishment-overheat-etc) until the halon is exhausted.
In the cockpit, the flight crew is suffering from the fumes from the lithium batteries, when the fire alarm goes off. They respond to the fire (activate Halon), and makes a distress call but is unable to transmit (fire has disabled AIMS, electronics bay, transmitter?).
Next they turn the plane back, but the cockpit crew is semi-conscious and weakened by the fumes. 
All the above is still speculation.]

Mar 09, 2015

MH370 carrying 221kg of lithium-ion batteries: What you may not know about the ubiquitous energy cells

By Chew Hui Min

It has emerged that missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was carrying 221kg of lithium-ion batteries that did not undergo the normal security screening a year ago.

In 2010, two crew members were killed when a fire started in the cargo hold of a UPS Airlines cargo plane that was carrying lithium-ion batteries.

An Asiana Airlines cargo plane crashed into the sea in 2011, killing both crew members. It was carrying 400kg of lithium batteries. Some carriers now restrict passenger aircraft from carrying such cargo.

While there is too little information to go on for now, the presence of the batteries is a concern, experts said.

These batteries are now everywhere, in our phones, laptops and airplanes. Here's more about them:

1. Light and energy dense
Lithium is the world's lightest metal, and is chemically active compared to other metals, which makes it energy dense and thus perfect for batteries. For the consumer, it means the most energy in the lightest, most compact package.

The technology goes back decades, but since emerging as a viable commercial option in the 1990s, it has become the fastest growing type of battery used in the world.

2. Where are they used?
Most electronic devices come with lithium-ion batteries nowadays. Chances are, anything that comes with a rechargeable battery pack uses one. Smartphones, laptops, electric cars like the Tesla, digital cameras and video equipment, electronic cigarettes, game consoles, power tools, electric wheelchairs, the list goes on...

3. Why are they flammable?
You may have heard of cases of the batteries going up in flames, notoriously on the Boeing 787 Dreamliners. But production processes have been improving, and cases are quite rare.

Batteries contain highly reactive chemicals by default, and smart control systems are included in each battery to ensure they are safe.

Minor faults can lead to heat build-ups that results in a cell catching fire. This can be due to microscopic metal particles coming into contact with parts of the battery cell and causing a short circuit.

There is a separator keeping the positive and negative poles of the battery apart, and the battery can short circuit if this fails. As batteries are made lighter, this separator has become thinner.

4. How do I use them safely
As an approved safety circuit is needed on the battery, it is safer to buy rechargeable batteries from reputable sources.

Keep them away from temperature extremes such as in direct sunlight. They can't get too cold either as many types of lithium-ion batteries cannot be charged below 0 deg C.

While the capacity of the batteries decreases over time, there is no need to fully discharge them before charging them.

5. Airline regulations
Lithium-ion batteries shipped by themselves should be carried only on cargo aircraft, according to the latest 2015 guidelines issued by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The restriction does not apply to lithium metal batteries contained in equipment.

Singapore Airlines recommends that the batteries for laptops, mobile phones and video equipment be carried in the equipment, and on carry-on baggage.

Lithium-ion batteries with more than 160 watt hours - used for Segways, electric bicycles and underwater lamps - are not allowed on board.

The Economist


Mar 08, 2015

Shipment containing lithium ion batteries not screened before loading on MH370: Report

By Shannon Teoh In Kuala Lumpur

A shipment containing 221kg of lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries on Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370 was not screened before being loaded on the plane that disappeared a year ago.

An interim report by the international investigation team released today said the cargo from Motorola Penang was "inspected physically" by MASKargo in Penang, but did not go through security screening before being transported in a truck to Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

"The shipment arrived at KLIA Cargo Complex on the evening of March 7, 2014, before being loaded onto MH370 without going through additional security screening," said the report by the Malaysian ICAO Annex 13 Safety Investigation Team for MH370.

The report seen by The Straits Times, however, said the batteries - a known fire hazard on flights - were not regulated as dangerous goods because the packing adhered to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) guidelines.

The batteries were part of a 2,453kg shipment by Motorola that also contained chargers and radio accessories, according to the 200-plus-page document released at noon today to the next-of-kin of the flight's 239 passengers, before being made public at 3pm.

American carriers United Airlines and Delta announced this year they would no longer carry bulk shipments of lithium-ion batteries after Federal Aviation Administration tests found overheating batteries could cause major fires.

Reports say Li-ion batteries have caused 140 mid-air incidents in the past 20 years.

MAS chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya had said a fortnight after the plane was lost that "they are not big batteries and they are basically approved under the ICAO under dangerous goods", adding that they were checked several times to ensure compliance with guidelines.

It is unclear if Li-ion is not routinely screened before being loaded, but the report said that between January and April last year, MAS carried 99 such shipments to Beijing.

[Quite safe. One 1 in 100 shipment will result in a fire... Oh...]

Mr Lee Khim Fatt, whose wife was part of the cabin crew, questioned why the Li-ion batteries did not have to be scanned. "Common sense would tell you that airport cargo is a very important area. Lay people have to be scanned through. So why not larger cargo?"

Earlier this morning, Prime Minister Najib Razak promised that Malaysia remains committed to the search that is ongoing in the treacherous southern Indian Ocean.

"The disappearance of MH370 is without precedent, and so too is the search - by far the most complex and technically challenging in aviation history. The lack of answers and definitive proof - such as aircraft wreckage - has made this more difficult to bear," he said in a statement.

The 19-member investigation team interviewed more than 120 people. Team chief Datuk Kok Soo Chon, in a live braodcast on national television, said its objective was "the prevention of future accidents or incidents and not for the purpose to apportion blame or liability".


Mar 08, 2015

Lithium-ion batteries flagged as fire hazard, banned by two US airlines

TWO major United States airlines have banned shipments of lithium-ion batteries on board their planes, according to a BBC report last week.

In the report on March 3, the BBC reported that United Airlines and Delta Airlines had stopped bulk shipments of the batteries, amid concerns by aviation officials that they had contributed to fires that downed two cargo planes, killing four people.

"Our primary concerns when transporting dangerous goods are the safety of our customers, our customers' shipments and the environment," the BBC quoted a United Airlines statement.

A UPS Airlines cargo plane crashed in Dubai in 2010, killing both crew members, after a fire erupted on board. A probe by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found that it was carrying a large number of lithium-ion batteries.

An Asiana Airlines cargo plane crashed into the sea in 2011, killing both crew members. It was carrying 400kg of lithium batteries.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, a passenger flight from Kuala Lumpur heading to Beijing that went missing one year ago, was also reported to have been carrying 221kg lithium-ion batteries in its cargo. They did not go through security screening before being loaded onto the flight, an interim report from an international investigation team revealed on Sunday.

Tests by the FAA had found that fires could ensue if batteries were overheated, according to the BBC.

It put 5,000 lithium-ion batteries next to a heater, which caused the batteries to heat up to about 600 deg C. An explosion and fire ensued.

The same thing happened even after a fire-suppression agent was added.

Lithium-ion batteries are found in electronic devices like cellphones and laptops, and are used as a source of rechargeable power.


Aug 13, 2014

Lithium batteries can explode: FAA

WASHINGTON - New research shows that lithium batteries can explode and burn even more violently than previously thought, raising questions about their use and shipment on passenger airplanes.

Because many airlines are replacing paper charts with laptops and tablet computers, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conducted tests on what would happen if one of their rechargeable lithium-ion battery cells ignited.

In one test, the cockpit filled with smoke thick enough to obscure instruments and vision out the window for about five minutes.

The findings, posted on the FAA's website on Monday, raise an even bigger issue as makers of the rechargeable cells can ship them in bulk in the cargo areas of passenger airplanes. One test found the batteries may blow up, which might render airplane fire-suppression systems ineffective.

Mr Mark Rogers, director of the Air Line Pilots Association's dangerous goods programme, said: "It's certainly very sobering because that condition could happen on aircraft today."

A working group of officials from international regulatory agencies, airlines, unions and battery manufacturers is due to meet on Sept 9 in Cologne, Germany, to address the new research and determine whether additional restrictions are needed.


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