Who says that only young scientists make breakthroughs?
For John Goodenough, the 94-year-old co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery, lightning appears to have struck twice. He recently published his latest battery design, the lithium-glass battery, an entirely solid cell that has a strikingly long list of admirable characteristics.
The new technology not only triples the energy density of lithium-ion, it also recharges in minutes, survives thousands charging cycles, operates across a wide range of temperatures (-4˚ F to 140˚ F), and won’t catch fire. With a little more development, Goodenough, a professor of engineering at the University of Texas, thinks they could reliably replace lithium with sodium, an abundant element that’s in everything from underground seams of salt to nearly ubiquitous ocean water.
The key to the battery is the solid glass electrolyte, which sits between the negative anode and positive cathode and facilitates the chemical reaction that produces electricity. The glass electrolyte in Goodenough’s latest battery is made of a precise mixture of either lithium or sodium along with barium, oxygen, and chlorine. It prevents needle-like dendrites from forming on the anode when charged quickly, a problem that can lead to fire-causing short circuits that plague lithium ion batteries.
Here’s Mark Anderson, reporting for IEEE Spectrum:
Moreover, says lithium-glass battery codeveloper Maria Helena Braga, a visiting research fellow at UT Austin and engineering professor at the University of Porto in Portugal, the glass battery charges in “minutes rather than hours.” This, she says, is because the lithium- or sodium-doped glass endows the battery with a far greater capacity to store energy in the electric field. So, the battery can, in this sense, behave a little more like a lightning-fast supercapacitor. (In technical terms, the battery’s glass electrolyte endows it with a higher so-called dielectric constant than the volatile organic liquid electrolyte in a lithium-ion battery.)
As with most promising new battery chemistries, the real trick will be in producing the cells on a commercial scale. Goodenough, at 94, says he’s going to leave that to someone else.
Photo credit: Toshiyuki IMAI/Flickr (CC BY-SA)