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Good is Not Good Enough for Him

  Newsletter Article

John B. Goodenough Develops Revolutionary Battery Concepts

Age is not a barrier to achieving great things. We are reminded of this daily in Germany by countless articles in magazines, TV shows, the Federal Ministry of Health, and pharmacy magazines. And Queen Elizabeth, who, even at 91, remains as committed to being of service as ever before, shows us that senior citizens can still achieve great feats. Her husband, Prince Philip, 96, recently announced his retirement from all public royal duties in the fall. He still undertook 219 official engagements in the UK in 2016.

Although John B. Goodenough was at the forefront of a groundbreaking development in Oxford, he is somewhat less known than the Royals. And despite that fact, he is still achieving unbelievable things at a ripe old age: The 94-year-old American, who still teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, was head of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at Oxford University in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

During his research work, he discovered lithium-cobald-oxide as the material for the positive electrode of rechargeable batteries. When continuing his research at the University of Texas in 1986, he discovered together with a Ph.D student lithium-iron-phosphate as a possible cathode material. He can therefore now certainly be referred to as the father of the lithium-ion battery.

But instead of sitting back and enjoying his retirement, Goodenough is still spearheading work on the next battery breakthrough. Contrary to what his surname might suggest, "good" is apparently not "good enough" for him. Together with the Portuguese engineering physics professor Maria Helena Braga, the veteran scientist, who was born in Jena/Germany in 1922, discovered a new battery cell in March this year that is said to have at least three times as much energy density as today's lithium-ion batteries.

The main role is played by glass: Instead of liquid electrolytes, the new battery relies on solid-glass electrolytes. One of the main advantages: In contrast to lithium-ion batteries, the glass does not form dendrites which can cause a short circuit that can lead to explosions and fires. If the new battery delivers what it promises, numerous large enterprises from Samsung and Boeing to Tesla will breathe a huge sigh of relief.

By the way Tesla: The new glass battery would also deliver another major advantage for the world's largest manufacturer of electric cars, but also for all other carmakers experimenting with eMobility: Glass is still conductive at low temperatures, meaning the batteries could still operate, or have high conductivity, at -20°C. Up to now, the range of electric cars in subzero temperatures has dropped as a result of the reduced capacity of lithium-ion batteries in cold weather.

The new batteries would also be a blessing for the environment: Glass allows alkali metals to be plated on both the cathode and the anode side. Production of the cells would therefore be less complex for batteries with a longer cycle life and higher volumetric energy density. And the costs would also decrease: The glass electrolytes allow for the substitution of readily available, low-cost sodium for lithium.

And consumers? They will also benefit: According to Goodenough, the new glass batteries will allow for a greater number of charging and discharging cycles while offering a faster rate of recharge - minutes rather than hours. The researchers have demonstrated more than 1,200 cycles without any noticeable loss of capacity.

Braga and Goodenough are now looking to collaborate with battery manufacturers to transform the research project into a fully-fledged commercial opportunity. If the exceptional results are workable in daily practice, it would be a major development - inspired by a researcher whose inquisitiveness still drives him on even at the age of 94.

But what does this have to do with the Royals? Quite simple: Prince Philip is also still very active for his age: According to an official announcement, Prince Philip is still the patron, president or a member of over 780 organizations worldwide. And as if that were not enough, the Queen's husband also lends his hand to designing jewelry, coins, stained glass windows, and cuff links.

And the moral of the story: Age does not protect you from inventive genius!