Lithium-ion batteries could be obsolete if inventor has his way

14 Apr 2017

These batteries could be obsolete pretty soon. Image: ADragan/Shutterstock

John Goodenough, one of the inventors of the lithium-ion battery, is behind a new variant to make that 1980 discovery obsolete.

What do you get when you combine a brilliant engineer, a 1980s discovery and almost four decades to work on an improvement?

You get John Goodenough, now aged 94, potentially replacing the need for lithium-ion batteries.

A team of engineers led by Goodenough, professor at the University of Texas, has developed the first ever all-solid-state battery cells.

The development was aided by Maria Helena Braga, who started investigating this field in Portugal several years ago before syncing up with Goodenough and Andrew Murchison in Texas.

The new cells are low-cost and non-combustible, with a long battery life, a high volumetric energy density, and fast rates of charge and discharge.

This puts the batteries on a plain far above what lithium-ion alternatives can operate on, which could be of significant importance in the coming years.

The battery cells have at least three times as much energy density as lithium-ion batteries, providing for added range, should electric vehicles use them.

John Goodenough, professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. Image: University of Texas

John Goodenough, professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Image: University of Texas

According to Goodenough’s research paper, published in Energy and Environmental Science, the engineering formulation also allows for longer-lasting batteries, as well as a faster rate of recharge, perhaps at minutes, rather than hours.

The use of an alkali-metal anode increases the energy density of a cathode, with a resultant 1,200 cycles possible with low-cell resistance.

What makes this approach to batteries even more amenable to tomorrow’s needs is the high conductivity possible through operating solid-glass electrolytes. The batteries can theoretically operate at below freezing, again priming them for electric vehicles.

“The glass electrolytes allow for the substitution of low-cost sodium for lithium. Sodium is extracted from seawater that is widely available,” Braga said, noting the batteries are even environmentally friendly, in comparison to their 37-year-old predecessors.

“Cost, safety, energy density, rates of charge and discharge, and cycle life are critical for battery-driven cars to be more widely adopted. We believe our discovery solves many of the problems that are inherent in today’s batteries,” Goodenough said.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic