Earlier this week I spoke with a former colleague about the 787 Dreamliner battery fire. He said that he expects the fire to be a major problem for the battery industry and to slow acceptance of lithium-based batteries in the marketplace.
I told my former colleague, as I have told many others this week, that my expectation is just the opposite: Although the Dreamliner incident highlights a real safety hazard, the hazard is not one posed by batteries. The hazard is one posed by the ever increasing need of modern technology for electrical current.
The electrical current we need to power our devices, machines and vehicles must come from somewhere. Advanced economies depend upon electricity to transmit data and energy. Future increases in productivity, and indeed continued economic growth, will depend upon providing more current and storing it in ever smaller and lighter amounts of mass. There simply are no better, safer or more efficient ways to do that today than with lithium-based batteries.
I have been struck over the past two weeks by the schadenfreude of some, who claim the Dreamliner incident as proof that government and industry have foolishly invested in an energy technology that is dangerous and that has few practical commercial applications. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Those who pine for older energy storage technologies, or who wish to discredit energy storage technology entirely, are simply trying to sell horse saddles to Henry Ford.
We need to double-down on advanced battery technology and lithium-based batteries, not shun them. Storing ever increasing amounts of energy in ever decreasing amounts of mass is a dangerous business. But it is a business we must be in, as future economic prosperity depends upon using energy storage to facilitate ever increasing amounts of electronic data and energy.
The final outcome of the Dreamliner incident will not be a market pull-back from lithium-based batteries. It will be a realization that the market has no practical alternative to their use. The dangers of storing electric energy are real and must be addressed. But there is no going back. Advanced energy storage and lithium-based batteries are here to stay.