Potential and Peril Showcased at NTSB Battery Forum

The board's chairman, Deborah A.P. Hersman, said the technology "has revolutionized power delivery," and the challenge is managing it safely.

The National Transportation Safety Board held a forum in Washington, D.C., April 11-12 to hear experts discuss the use of lithium-ion batteries in various transportation modes. Almost 20 panelists were scheduled to participate, including experts from several DOT agencies and the U.S. Department of Energy, academicians, and representatives of battery manufacturers and trade associations.

The forum followed the highly publicized grounding of all Boeing Dreamliner 787s then in service after two incidents of fires aboard the airplanes. NTSB, Boeing, and aviation authorities then began to examine why the 787 lithium-ion batteries had caught fire; Boeing designed a hardened battery and completed FAA-required certification tests for it on April 5.

The board's chairman, Deborah A.P. Hersman, said afterward that the forum "was incredibly helpful to us at the NTSB but also an opportunity to educate the public about this family of chemistries called lithium-ion that really is powering everything from our iPods to airplanes. It's just unbelievable how this technology has revolutionized power delivery and what we can do.

"I think it absolutely is something that can be managed safely, and that's where the challenge is," Hersman said in an April 12 phone interview. "We have a very innovative and growing industry that is finding new and better uses for batteries, making them really be more productive and more reliable. But we also see that there are risks, and everyone at the forum acknowledged that there are potential failures that can occur, and when those occur, they can be catastrophic. And so, it's a huge responsibility for this industry to make sure that they're appropriately identifying the risks and they're mitigating them.

"In most cases, they're doing that very successfully. But occasionally we see very high-profile incidents that give us all pause. More needs to be done to prevent those from occurring."

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