Innovation

Lithium-ion battery inventor touts new battery breakthrough

John Goodenough (The University of Texas at Austin).

John Goodenough (The University of Texas at Austin).

Not all tech geniuses are barely old enough to shave. For proof, look no further than John Goodenough, who was 57 years old when he co-invented the lithium ion battery, which is very likely the power source for, among other things, the device on which you’re reading this.

But that was 37 years ago. Now, at the spry age of 94, Goodenough, a professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, has one-upped himself.

Goodenough and senior research fellow Maria Helena Braga recently announced the development of an all-solid-state battery that beats lithium-ion in every way imaginable. It’s cheap, it has a longer life cycle, it charges and discharges quickly and, best of all, it’s noncombustible — meaning it won’t explode and burst into flames. Are you listening, Samsung?

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Goodenough and Braga, who are seeking several patents, hope the technology could revolutionize the powering of electric vehicles and energy storage devices, according UT News.

The all-solid-state battery cells have at least three times as much energy density as lithium-ion batteries, which could greatly extend how far an electric vehicle can travel before it needs to be recharged. The new battery can be charged and discharged more times than a lithium-cell battery, meaning it will last longer. And charging and recharging can be accomplished in minutes, not hours.

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Goodenough and Braga describe the technology in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

The advent of a Li+ or Na+ glass electrolyte with a cation conductivity σi > 10−2 S cm−1 at 25 °C and a motional enthalpy ΔHm = 0.06 eV that is wet by a metallic lithium or sodium anode is used to develop a new strategy for an all-solid-state, rechargeable, metal-plating battery. During discharge, a cell plates the metal of an anode of high-energy Fermi level such as lithium or sodium onto a cathode current collector with a low-energy Fermi level; the voltage of the cell may be determined by a cathode redox center having an energy between the Fermi levels of the anode and that of the cathode current collector. This strategy is demonstrated with a solid electrolyte that not only is wet by the metallic anode, but also has a dielectric constant capable of creating a large electric-double-layer capacitance at the two electrode/electrolyte interfaces.

Here’s what that means in English, according UT News:

Lithium-ion batteries use liquid electrolytes to transport lithium ions between the negative and positive sides of a battery. If the battery cell is charged too quickly, it can cause a short circuit that can lead to explosions and fires.

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But Goodenough and Braga’s all-solid-state battery uses glass electrolytes instead of liquid ones. The result is a battery that can have high conductivity at 4 degrees below zero (-20 degrees Celsius) — wonderful news for electric car owners — and is made from earth-friendly materials.

“The glass electrolytes allow for the substitution of low-cost sodium for lithium,” Braga said. “Sodium is extracted from seawater that is widely available.”

Longer-lasting, faster-charging, more energy-dense and won’t blow up. What more could you want from a battery?

In 37 years, when he’s 131 years old, John Goodenough will let us know.