Detroit’s LithFire-X on Lithium-Ion Battery Fires and Flight 370

3/26/14Follow @XconomyDET

On March 18, pilot Chris Goodfellow wrote a widely shared op-ed for Wired detailing what he believed happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8. He had no doubt, he wrote, that the plane experienced a catastrophic fire, which explains why the plane’s communications systems stopped suddenly. He theorized that pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, with a long career and 18,000 hours of flight time under his belt, turned the plane sharply to the left on his way to a remote island airstrip called Palau Langkawi for an emergency landing.

“We old pilots were drilled to know what is the closest airport of safe harbor while in cruise,” Goodfellow wrote. “Airports behind us, airports abeam us, and airports ahead of us. They’re always in our head. Always.”

Goodfellow went on to speculate that there was a fire onboard the plane, whether its cause was electrical or a blown front tire doing a slow burn. The pilots and crew fought valiantly but were eventually overcome by the smoke, he reasoned, and the plane still had hours of fuel left in its tank.

“What I think happened is … the plane continued on the heading, probably on George (autopilot), until it ran out of fuel or the fire destroyed the control surfaces and it crashed,” Goodfellow concluded. “You will find it along that route [in the remote southern Indian Ocean]—looking elsewhere is pointless.”

Of course, we still don’t know exactly what happened to Flight 370, but the fire scenario seems to be gaining traction. This morning, it was reported that satellites have picked up a possible debris field exactly where Goodfellow predicted it would be.

In February, Xconomy wrote about Detroit startup LithFire-X, which makes products to suppress lithium-ion battery fires. Lithium-ion batteries can catch fire due to excessive heat, mechanical failure, electrical failure, design flaws, or overcharging. In the article, co-founders Gerry Flood and Ron Butler warned that, as our devices increasingly rely on lithium-ion batteries to power them, there was a heightened risk of fire everywhere lithium-ion batteries are present: at home, in the car, in hospitals, and on board planes. But because this is a relatively new challenge, there aren’t many firm … Next Page »

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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