Many of the most influential people of our time are also the most obscure. Take John Goodenough, for example. While he may not be a household name, everyday devices such as laptops and smartphones exist because of his work on lithium-ion batteries.
But even in his 90s, Goodenough isn’t done yet. He’s already invented the lithium-ion’s nervous system, which houses the cobalt-oxide cathode. This is the most important part of every lithium-ion battery, but Goodenough isn’t satisfied with this major scientific feat. Now, he’s looking to go one step further.
This from Quartz:
Today, at 92, Goodenough still goes to his smallish office every day at the University of Texas at Austin. That, he says, is because he’s not finished. Thirty-five years after his blockbuster, the electric car still can’t compete with the internal combustion engine on price. When solar and wind power produce electricity, it must be either used immediately or lost forever—there is no economic stationary battery in which to store the power. Meanwhile, storm clouds are gathering: Oil is again cheap but, like all cyclical commodities, its price will go back up. The climate is warming and becoming generally more turbulent.
Essentially, Goodenough is looking to create a super-battery.
“I want to solve the problem before I throw my chips in,” Goodenough said in an interview with Quartz. “I’m only 92. I still have time to go.”
Most scientists in Goodenough’s position would be perfectly content with his or her scientific career and willing to spend their twilight years in relaxation, but this scientist is still striving for more. While he’s received such impressive accolades as being named an ECS Honorary Member and having been awarded the National Medal of Science, Goodenough is still more passionate about ending his career with a big invention.
But the path he has chosen involves one of the toughest problems in battery science, which is how to make an anode out of pure lithium or sodium metal. If it can be done, the resulting battery would have 60% more energy than current lithium-ion cells. That would instantly catapult electric cars into a new head-to-head race with combustion. Over the years, numerous scientists have tried and failed—it was lithium metal, for instance, that kept setting Stan Whittingham’s lab on fire at Exxon in the 1970s.
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