John Goodenough: Inventor of the lithium-ion battery passes away at 100

He received the Nobel Prize at 97, an age when he was actively involved in academics and working on a superbattery.
Ameya Paleja
Goodenough's work was instrumental in making Li-ion batteries a reality
Goodenough's work was instrumental in making Li-ion batteries a reality

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John B. Goodenough, the inventor of the lithium-ion battery, which powers everyday devices ranging from mobile phones to electric cars, passed away at an assisted living facility in Austin, Texas. Next month, Goodenough would have celebrated his 101st birthday.

Born in Jena, Germany, on July 25, 1922, Goodenough was the second of four children of Erwin and Helen Goodenough. As an infant, John Goodenough came to the US after his father accepted a faculty position at Yale to teach comparative religion but struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia at local primary schools.

As a teenager, he picked Latin and Greek to cover his weakness in the English language and focused on mathematics at the Groton School in Massachusetts. He then received a scholarship to Yale, where he picked mathematics and worked multiple jobs to pay for this education. In 1943, Goodenough was called for active duty in Army Air Forces. He received a scholarship to study physics at the University of Chicago, where he completed his master's and doctorate degrees.

The lithium-ion battery

Early on in his career, Goodenough worked to lay the groundwork for the use of random access memory (RAM) in computers at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory. However, as federal funding dried out for the project, Goodenough moved to Oxford to teach a chemistry lab and began his work on batteries.

Around the same time, Exxonn patented the first rechargeable battery built by British chemist Stanley Whittingham who used lithium for the anode and titanium disulfide as the cathode. The Whittingham battery produced high voltage but caught fire or exploded when overcharged.

John Goodenough: Inventor of the lithium-ion battery passes away at 100
Lithium-ion batteries are ubiquitous these days.

Goodenough's genius was using layers of lithium and cobalt oxide for the cathode, which created pockets for lithium ions to flow and made the battery-less volatile. The invention was possible after four years of hard work. Still, Oxford University wasn't interested in patenting it, and the rights were signed over to an atomic energy research organization in Britain.

Nobel at 97

Meanwhile, Akira Yoshino in Japan improved the anode of the battery design using graphitic carbon and eliminating pure lithium. Instead, only lithium ions, which were safer, were used.

In 1991, Sony combined Goodenough's cathode with Yoshino's anode to make the world's first lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery, which has been further improved over the years to power portable devices and electric vehicles.

Since his contribution was never patented, Goodenough never received any royalties for his work, even though it is used in practically every household worldwide. In 2019, Goodenough shared the $900,000 award for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Whittingham and Yoshino at the age of 97.

Nevertheless, Goodenough was actively involved in research at the University of Austin, Texas, where he has been since 1986. Interestingly, Goodenough also contributed to the development of lithium iron phosphate (LFP) cathodes which are now being preferred over nickel and cobalt cathodes for being more sustainable and low costs, The New York Times reported.

Goodenough's latest project involved using solid-state electrolytes with lithium or sodium electrodes that could store vast amounts of renewable energy and be recharged in minutes.

Passionate about his research and working on ideas well beyond conventional retirement ages, Goodenough lived his life 100 percent the way he wanted.

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