The battery pioneer
Many of today’s biggest and brightest scientific ideas focus on battery technology; not least our own Bright Minds Challenge in 2017, won by Professor Ernesto Julio Calvo for Inquimae – a revolutionary solar-powered lithium technology. The work of Ernesto has been built on the hard work of many that came before him, not least a nonagenarian who - much like the battery revolution he helped spark – shows no signs of slowing down.
If modern batteries had the same constitution as their pioneer, John B. Goodenough, we’d all be in good shape. At the age of 96, he’s still going strong…
For many years the battery industry had tried and failed to develop a safe rechargeable Lithium battery. It was Goodenough who realized that the problem could be solved by fabricating a discharged cell with an oxide cathode.
As a result his oxide cathodes and underlying fabrication strategy are now used in modern rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for almost all consumer electronics - and perhaps even the device you’re using to read this story now.
Now Goodenough is working on new battery technology that can transform our ability to harness the Sun’s energy and reduce our dependence on oil. In the quest to replace fossil fuels, he explains, “It’s important not to let your ideas get…fossilized.”
The idea is simple enough. As a society we have now learned to capture the energy of the sun through photovoltaic cells that convert it into electric power and enable it to be transported. However, the electric power from these sources needs to be stored somewhere for it to be useful.
Thus, Goodenough is now working on materials for a new rechargeable battery cell that will allow a low-cost, environmentally friendly, rechargeable battery with a long useful life.
Having made such an indelible mark on the industry, why continue this journey? “To sustain our modern lifestyle on this planet, we need to return to a sustainable energy supply: Which is energy delivered to us by the sun.”
He concludes: “I just count myself fortunate that here in the United States they allow me to work in my mid-90’s.” We couldn’t agree more.