By on March 9, 2017

john goodenough the truth about cars
One of the factors holding back widespread acceptance of electric vehicles has been the development of battery storage. Until now, there has been nothing analogous for batteries to the computing industry’s Moore’s Law, which has seen integrated circuits become significantly more powerful, faster, and cheaper with each generation. While there have been incremental improvements in energy density — the primary drawback to battery power — a number of promising new battery technologies have not panned out.

Now, a research team headed by John Goodenough, whose 1980 invention of a cobalt-oxide cathode made powerful lithium-ion batteries possible, has announced the development of a solid-state battery cell that not only has the potential (no pun intended) to store three times as much power as a conventional lithium-ion cell, but also replaces the cells’ liquid electrolytes with a glass compound. That would eliminate the fire and explosion hazard known to Li-ion power packs.

The new cell’s chemistry also allows for the replacement of lithium, a relatively rare and expensive element mined in just a few places on Earth, with sodium, which can be easily and cheaply mined or extracted from our planet’s abundant sea water. Finally, the cell operates well at low temperatures. Electric vehicles with conventional lithium-ion batteries typically have reduced range in extremely cold conditions.

In a paper published by the Energy and Environmental Science journal, Goodenough (who is 94 years old), an engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin, joined senior research fellow Dr. Maria Helena Braga and two associates in explaining the new cell’s advantages over conventional cells. Mainly, that it is noncombustible, can withstand a higher number of charge/discharge cycles, is at least three times as energy dense, and can discharge that energy quickly. It also promises to charge more quickly than today’s batteries. While energy density directly affects range, which is perhaps consumers’ primary concern, slow recharging times also hinder consumer acceptance.

Braga began researching glass electrolytes while at the University of Porto in Portugal. Two years ago she started working with Goodenough’s team. A patent on the current results has been granted to the inventors and assigned to UT Austin.

Goodenough said in a press release issued by the school, “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.”!divAbstract

Batteries work by placing two electrodes in an electrolytic solution. Electrons (in this case lithium ions) flow from the cathode, the positive electrode, to the anode, the negative electrode. Connect the two electrodes externally with a circuit and those electrons are available to power things as they flow back to the cathode.

If a conventional cell is recharged too quickly, metal whiskers called dendrites can form around the electrodes, hindering ion exchange. If the dendrites extend across the cell, they’ll short circuit the device, causing it to overheat and potentially explode or burn. The use of glass compounds for the electrolyte eliminates the formation of dendrites and also allows for the use of alkali metal-based anodes, something not possible with conventional Li-ion cells. That increases energy density and cycle life. Test cells have withstood more than 1,200 charge/discharge cycles without increased electrical resistance.

Previous solid-state cells have required high heat to work. The research team says that this is the first solid-state battery cell that can operate below 60 degrees Celsius (140 Fahrenheit). Not only will it work at normal temperatures, the glass electrolyte continues to have high conductivity at -20 C (-4 F), promising decent energy output in all but the most severe winter weather.

While the initial test results are promising, it should be pointed out that it took more than ten years after Dr. Goodenough’s invention of the cobalt-oxide electrode for lithium-ion batteries to become practical enough for commercial production.

In an ironic twist, should the Braga-Goodenough cell actually be good enough for use in EVs, it could redound to the benefit of the traditional Motor City. The city of Detroit sits on top of a huge salt mine.


[Images: University of Texas at Austin, Michigan State University]

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34 Comments on “Lithium-Ion Pioneer Says New Cell Holds Triple the Power, but Will It Be Good Enough?...”

  • avatar

    Its gotta be Goodenough ;)

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz


    How many years out is this new solid state battery?

    It still needs to be economical. Just because it uses sodium doesn’t make for a cheap battery.

    As for Detroit’s future as a salt mine….? There are plenty of places to find salt on the surface first.

    I”ll research this further.

    By the way (talking of batteries) for the Greenies amongst us. Sugar cane farmers in Australia are finding it cheaper to change out their electric irrigation pumps to diesel. Hmmmm….. maybe green energy is just to expensive for practical and more importantly competitive use.

    • 0 avatar

      Ever heard of Windsor Salt? Mined in Windsor, Ontario right across the Detroit River from Detroit. Huge operation. A short time ago they announced a large expansion project meant to keep the mine operating for another 50 years.

    • 0 avatar

      This is straight from the abstract.

      “This strategy is demonstrated with a solid electrolyte that not only is wet by the metallic anode, but also has a dielectric constant capable of creating a large electric-double-layer capacitance at the two electrode/electrolyte interfaces. The result is a safe, low-cost, lithium or sodium rechargeable battery of high energy density and long cycle life.”

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        I’m not questioning the research. I’m questioning viability.

        The cane farmers in Australia found the cost of solar and batteries fantastically prohibitive (millions per farm).

        As electrical energy prices rise due to greener tech it is forcing business to be uncompetitive.

        In Bundaberg QLD a small suspension manufacturer (vehicle) has had his energy price rise three and a half fold in 7 years. He’s looking at diesel power generation for his business.

        This is where the green utopian world falls short. Will we will have clean energy? There are no laws in Australia for generating your own power. Or will we end up with only one vehicle for the global market.

        • 0 avatar

          @BigAl – this article is about batteries not energy generation.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            You seem to have missed my point.

            Why use fossil fuel to store energy, when we have good and efficient storage now for gas and diesel.

            Even coal can be cranked up at any time, without the need for batteries.

            Charging batteries are not efficient enough, even with these sodium batteries.

            The best use of batteries is for stationary situations ie homes and factories or small portable devices.

            Batteries are needed to make the green revolution possible. But batteries don’t deliver with slar, wind, etc even for farms and business.

            The tax payer forks out lots for this.

            Nuclear is the answer.

          • 0 avatar

            BiGAl – I did not miss your point.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al From 'Murica

          You know though, while we aren’t talking power generation, cheap batteries are a piece of the puzzle to make renewables like solar and wind competitive. The ability to cheaply store energy at night for example would make solar easier.

          While any applications are years off should this prove to be successful it is promising. With respect to cars electrics need to further close the gap with ICE vehicles to gain mainstream acceptance. A faster to charge battery that increases range and is cheaper goes a long way towards doing that. You’ll see it first in electronics I would guess.

  • avatar

    He’s been Goodenough for 94 years.

  • avatar

    will be interesting to see if this pans out. sodium is more common, but is actually *more* reactive than lithium (the alkali metals increase reactivity as you go up the period. we occasionally still have trouble keeping a leash on lithium.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I’m not holding my breath. Issues/questions abound, including cost, manufacturability, scalability, form factors, discharge rates, charging circuit requirements, and licensing.

  • avatar

    It’s a long road from lab to mass production. A company I’m close to with another new battery technology took a couple of years to get to pilot production and it will be another 3 years before there is a factory mass producing the cells. There are a number of new battery technologies that are past the lab phase and in the process of being moved towards mass production.

    There will be a steady stream of battery improvements along with faster 800v & 1000v charging standards. EV technology is in its infancy now, but I think there will be huge improvements and market share gains in the 2020s.

    • 0 avatar

      I eagerly hope to end my driving days with a decade or so of EV ownership. But it’s got to be at least Bolt-sized and preferably with more ground clearance because I ain’t never moving to a climate where bugs and bums are happy year round.

      • 0 avatar

        …Where bugs and bums are happy year round….

        That’s awesome..and I agree wholeheartedly. The idea of losing four seasons is totally unpalatable to me and fortunately my wife agrees…

      • 0 avatar

        The real “killer app” for electric vehicles will be when more manufacturers start putting individual motors at each wheel – independent wheel drive. All wheel torque vectoring is an amazing thing and I can’t wait to get it.

  • avatar

    I hope that’s not a recent picture, because the screensaver on that PC is the Windows XP logo. Oh, and Hook ’em Horns.

    • 0 avatar

      I only recently stopped using a legacy Windows 98 box that was running my embroidery software. You’ll find machines still running DOS (I have one of those too) in labs and in industry.

    • 0 avatar

      The computers that drive scientific instruments are only upgraded in two scenarios:

      1) The computer dies.
      2) The instrument dies.

      The X-ray diffractometer I used as an undergrad in 2010-2011 was driven by Win98. The thermogravimetric analyzer was NT 3.51. Even now in my pilot plant analytical lab, we just got rid of two computers (one driving an HPLC and the other a N/S combustion analyzer) running XP (with no service packs applied). The latter were eliminated because we finally got around to upgrading those 20 year old instruments.

      When it’s your line-of-business and it’s not connected to the Internet, you don’t dare make any changes that might gum up the works.

  • avatar

    The article plainly states this is years away from feasibility, and yet we still have naysayers pointing that fact out as if it’s news. Considering we’re moving toward everything having batteries (yes, cars, too) this is still noteworthy. Battery technology moves incredibly slowly. Doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate a big development when it’s made.

    • 0 avatar

      “Battery technology moves incredibly slowly.”

      It’s actually moving along quicker than you might think. The companies moving the tech from the lab to mass production are notoriously secretive. Nissan made huge improvements in battery durability, Tesla improved the energy density of their batteries by 30% from what was in the Model S to the cells in the Model 3. There are numerous other technologies entering pilot production. While the tech mentioned in the article is a ways out, there are other technologies that will be in mass production soon – meaning a couple of years. It’s going to be a steady stream of improvements (including charging advances).

      • 0 avatar

        no, what he’s saying is there’s far more than cars which benefits from advances in battery tech. you probably have an example of one of those things in your pocket.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al From 'Murica

          Yep, I agree. If there is a real future in this technology the mobile electronics industry will drive it short term. Bigger, more power hungry screens and processors that would have been enterprise server class not too long ago are straining current battery tech. Mobile phones are mature more or less and a modern smartphone that is the same size and weight as our current gen devices but with a multi day battery would potentially be disruptive in the industry.

  • avatar

    Contrary to the notion that the South West USA does not have four seasons Southern California does indeed. They are a little different than Northern Latitudes.
    Here we have Fire, Flood, Drought and Earthquake. As opposed to Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring

    • 0 avatar

      You forgot one season, when the temperature in Arizona tops 100 F and the “zonies” arrive on the coast, driving up beach rental prices. That season kind of straddles some that you cited, but it’s definitely a separate season for those who live in beach communities. It ranks right up there with the swallows returning to Capistrano, and the parrots returning to San Diego.

  • avatar

    The original chemistry took 10 years to move out of the laboratory, but what the PR people avoid mentioning is that after 35 years the old technology is only just mature enough to meet the volume and quality needs of the automotive industry – and that for “compliance cars” sold with large subsidies. Of course many “breakthroughs” never make it out of the lab. So by 2050…

    And lithium is not at all rare, and not expensive. There was simply little demand and thus little production. The same is true of a number of “rare” earths, which can be pulled from open-pit mines (hence cost-effective) but where capacity was closed because they could mine more than global markets needed.

  • avatar

    This research also holds huge promise for entire new classes of pharmaceuticals to replace very old, and in many cases, largely ineffective ones.

    It’s profound stuff, and holds promises that reach way beyond battery technology.

  • avatar

    Ronnie – I’m confused. I thought Abe Vigoda was dead?

    Had No idea he was into Lithum batteries in the after life…the force must be strong with him.

  • avatar

    The Chevy Bolt battery weighs almost 1,000 lbs and gives 200 miles of range, so about 5 lbs of battery per mile. So if this battery technology proves to be safe, effective, cheap to manufacture, and 3 times more dense than the current Bolt battery it would allow 5 lbs of battery to go 3 miles. In comparison, a gallon of gasoline weighs 6.2 lbs and in a Bolt sized car will typically allow 40+ miles of range – still a long ways from matching the energy density of carbon-based fuels.

  • avatar

    Great improvement for LiOn batteries…but really not enough for the future…we need batteries with twice that capacity for electric cares to be fully practical. That being said Goodenough is a brilliant scientist and this is a worthwhile breakthrough.

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