Lithium ion batteries have caused fires before



SEATTLE - Smoking or burning lithium ion batteries, which have caused recent emergencies on Boeing 787s, are blamed for fires in cell phones, electric cars and mp3 players.


The batteries also caused a huge fire at a company that supplies equipment to Boeing, said KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Amy Clancy.


It took 50 firefighters to battle a three-alarm blaze at Securaplane Technologies in November 2006 that was started by a lithium ion battery. The Tuscon, Arizona, company builds components for commercial aviation, including for Boeing.


The batteries are known to be flammable and burn incredibly hot. The fires can be very difficult to extinguish when something goes wrong.


The lithium ion batteries in the new Dreamliners are not made by the Tuscon company that burned. Still, concerns about lithium ion batteries are again headline news after smoke or fire erupted onboard two 787s in recent days.


On Wednesday, Japan's All Nippon Airways said pilots smelled something burning and received a cockpit message warning of battery problems while flying from Yamaguchi Ube airport in western Japan to Tokyo. They made an emergency landing at Takamatsu airport in western Japan, and passengers evacuated using inflatable slides.


An inspection found that a flammable liquid had leaked from the main lithium-ion battery, which is below and slightly behind the cockpit. Investigators found burn marks around the damage.


Just last week, a battery on a Japan Airlines 787 caught fire soon after the plane landed at Boston's Logan Airport. It took firefighters 40 minutes to put out the flames.


All Boeing 787s  have since been temporarily grounded.


The 787 is the first plane to make extensive use of lithium-ion batteries. The plane has two batteries -- the main one near the front and a second one in the rear.


Fires in devices powered by lithium ion batteries are rare, but well-documented.


KIRO 7 was the first to reveal that U.S. consumer safety officials were investigating lithium ion batteries in iPods nearly four years ago because of sudden fires.


Laptop and electric car fires have also been blamed on the same type of battery.


Boeing engineers have reportedly acknowledged the fire risk if the batteries are overcharged, but problems could also be attributed to damage or flaws.


The batteries' manufacturer, GS Yuasa, made its first statement, saying it was helping with the investigation, but that it's not clear whether the cause of the problem is with the battery, the power source or the electronics system.


Clancy, during her investigation of iPod batteries, spoke with many battery experts nationwide.


On Wednesday, she asked one of them if the lithium ion batteries in the 787s' electrical system concern him.


Joe Carcone of Contour Energy of Azusa, Calif., said that he's far more concerned about the lithium ion batteries that power the many cellphones, laptops and tablets of the passengers because who knows where they were made and under what kind of scrutiny.


Carcone said he trusts Boeing.