John Goodenough, the Inventor Behind the Lithium-Ion Battery, Passes Away at 100
John Goodenough, a pioneering American scientist and co-creator of the modern lithium-ion battery, bid farewell on June 25, 2023, at the remarkable age of 100. Alongside Stanley Wittingham and Akira Yoshino, Goodenough was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2019 for their groundbreaking contributions to lithium-ion battery technology.
Born to American parents in Jena, Germany, Goodenough pursued mathematics at Yale University before serving as a meteorologist in the United States Army during World War II. In 1952, he obtained a doctorate in physics from the University of Chicago, after which he conducted research at renowned institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Oxford University. Eventually, in 1986, he joined the University of Texas in Austin as a professor.
Goodenough and his team achieved a major breakthrough in 1980 when they developed a lithium battery with a cobalt oxide cathode capable of housing lithium ions within its layers. This cathode delivered a higher voltage than its predecessors, as recognized by the official Nobel Prize website. This pioneering discovery paved the way for the widespread adoption of lithium-ion batteries, which now power a vast range of portable electronic devices and electric vehicles.
The transportation sector is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, with fossil fuel combustion as its primary energy source. Consequently, it also serves as a major cause of both urban and regional air pollution. However, the ongoing transition to electric vehicles, driven by the prevalence of lithium-ion batteries, offers a promising solution to combat climate change. Automakers, such as Tesla's co-founder Martin Eberhard, have lauded lithium-ion technology for its superior performance compared to older alternatives like Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) cells and lead acid cells.
In 2017, Goodenough led a team of engineers in developing the first all-solid-state battery cells. These cells have the potential to revolutionize rechargeable batteries for handheld mobile devices, electric cars, and stationary energy storage. Collaborating with Maria Helena Braga, a senior research fellow at the Cockrell School, Goodenough successfully created a cost-effective all-solid-state battery that boasts non-combustible properties, a long cycle life, high volumetric energy density, and rapid charging and discharging rates.
Their breakthrough was detailed in a publication in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, where they highlighted that the energy density of their new battery cells was at least three times greater than that of current lithium-ion batteries. The energy density of a battery cell directly influences an electric vehicle's driving range, enabling cars to cover more miles between charges. Additionally, the UT Austin battery formulation offers an increased number of charging and discharging cycles, resulting in longer-lasting batteries, as well as significantly reduced recharge times (minutes instead of hours). Goodenough's relentless pursuit of innovation was evident in his tireless efforts to enhance battery technology.
Furthermore, the engineers' utilization of glass electrolytes enables the plating and stripping of alkali metals on both the cathode and anode sides without the formation of dendrites, simplifying the manufacturing process. Another notable advantage is that these battery cells can be produced using environmentally friendly materials. According to Braga, the glass electrolytes enable the substitution of low-cost sodium for lithium, with sodium sourced from seawater, which is abundantly available. This aspect has garnered interest among battery researchers and start-ups in India, as sodium-ion batteries offer a cost-effective and sustainable alternative.