Fast-charging batteries from renowned 94-year-old UT inventor show promise

UT’s John Goodenough, inventor of the lithium-ion battery, led a team of engineers in what’s being called a “breakthrough” in battery technology.
UT’s John Goodenough, inventor of the lithium-ion battery, led a team of engineers in what’s being called a “breakthrough” in battery technology. Cockrell School of Engineering/UT

A newly created “breakthrough” battery by a team led by John Goodenough, the 94-year-old UT professor who co-invented the lithium-ion battery, has drawn the attention of industry leaders, among them Google boss Eric Schmidt.

The low-cost battery “could lead to safer, faster-charging and longer-lasting rechargeable batteries for handheld mobile devices, electric cars and stationary energy storage,” says a UT news release.

The Goodenough team’s assertion that the new solid-state battery cells have three times as much energy density as the lithium-ion ones is enouraging, Schmidt said via Twitter.

A battery cell’s energy density gives an electric vehicle its driving range, so a higher energy density means that a car can drive more miles between charges, the UT news release says.

The development is significant for electric car makers and cellphone manufacturers who struggle to squeeze more performance out of batteries that power their machines and devices.

The team’s research was driven by the “urgent” need to lessen consumption of fossil fuels and to combat climate change, according to a Bloomberg technology report on this latest generation of batteries.

Energy storage is considered the missing link in the transition to a zero-carbon economy, the Bloomberg report said.

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

The new batteries use glass electrolytes instead of the liquid electrolytes used in lithium-ion batteries and have the advantage of being noncombustible. They also store and transmit energy at temperatures lower than their traditional lithium-ion counterparts.

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

Goodenough, a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas in Austin, worked on the battery with Braga and researcher Andrew J. Murchison. Braga began developing the solid-glass electrolytes while at the University of Porto in Portugal and hooked up with Goodenough about two years ago, according to UT.

Their research was published in the peer-reviewed jounral Energy & Environmental Science.

Tom Uhler: 817-390-7832, @tomuh