Detroit’s LithFire-X on Lithium-Ion Battery Fires and Flight 370
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safety regulations in place.
Could lithium-ion batteries have caused a fire that devastated Flight 370? “There’s lots of speculation,” Butler says. “It’s very hard to start a lithium-ion battery into thermal runaway on a plane—they have to be dropped or compromised in some way. But there is a chance. I’m wondering how they were packed and if they were tied down. ”
The lithium-ion batteries he’s referring to are not the ones in the passengers’ devices, but rather a 200 kilogram load of batteries that was being carried in the cargo hold of Flight 370. According to a report on Air Traffic Management’s website, “Billie Vincent, who served as the FAA’s civil aviation security chief, insisted from the outset that rather than portraying the crew of the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 as saboteurs, the pilots struggled heroically to save the aircraft until overcome by smoke from a catastrophic cargo fire caused—or exacerbated—by its highly flammable lithium battery cargo.”
Butler, who took pains to point out that his company focuses purely on fire suppression and not the regulatory ins and outs of transporting potentially flammable batteries, says shipping lithium-ion batteries in bulk in the cargo holds of planes is allowed, but there’s lots of confusion around precisely defining the rules for how the batteries should be transported.
“In the United States at least, you can’t put spare batteries for your camcorder in checked baggage,” Butler says. “Why is that? I don’t know. It’s the wackiest thing to me..”
If, in fact, investigators are able to prove a fire caused or exacerbated by lithium-ion batteries is what ultimately led to Flight 370’s demise, we can expect the industry to scramble to implement new safety regulations—which could mean big business for companies like LithFire-X.
In the meantime, Butler says if you’re ever on a plane where a lithium-ion battery fire breaks out, stick to good, old-fashioned water to put it out. “Whatever you do, don’t try to fight it with ice or alcohol,” he warns.