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Nobel Prize 2019 goes to lithium-ion battery pioneer

10 October 2019

One of the pioneers of lithium-ion battery technology, John B. Goodenough, has been awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

John B. Goodenough, professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin (Credit: The University of Texas at Austin)

John B. Goodenough, professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, received the awarded jointly with Stanley Whittingham of the State University of New York at Binghamton and Akira Yoshino of Meijo University,

In the words of the Nobel Foundation, “Through their work, they have created the right conditions for a wireless and fossil fuel-free society, and so brought the greatest benefit to humankind.”

Goodenough, who was born in 1922, identified and developed the critical materials that provided the high-energy density needed to power portable electronics, initiating the wireless revolution. Today, batteries incorporating Goodenough’s cathode materials are used worldwide for mobile phones, power tools, laptops, tablets and other wireless devices, as well as electric and hybrid vehicles.

“Billions of people around the world benefit every day from John’s innovations,” said Gregory L. Fenves, president of The University of Texas at Austin and former dean of the Cockrell School. “In addition to being a world-class inventor, he’s an outstanding teacher, mentor and researcher. We are grateful for John’s three decades of contributions to UT Austin’s mission.”

“Live to 97 (years old) and you can do anything,” said Goodenough. “I’m honoured and humbled to win the Nobel prize. I thank all my friends for the support and assistance throughout my life.”

In 1979, Goodenough showed that by using lithium cobalt oxide as the cathode of a lithium-ion rechargeable battery, it would be possible to achieve a high density of stored energy with an anode other than metallic lithium. This discovery led to the development of carbon-rich materials that allow for the use of stable and manageable negative electrodes in lithium-ion batteries.

“Professor John Goodenough is an extraordinary man and engineer, and I am delighted that his world-changing work is being recognised with the Nobel Prize,” said Cockrell School Dean Sharon L. Wood. “Today, everyone in the Texas Engineering community – our faculty, staff, students and alumni around the world – are proud of his accomplishment and inspired by the example he has set.”

Goodenough began his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory in 1952, where he laid the groundwork for the development of random-access memory (RAM) for the digital computer. After leaving MIT, he became professor and head of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at the University of Oxford. During this time, Goodenough made the lithium-ion discovery.

After retiring from Oxford in 1986, Goodenough joined UT Austin, where he serves as the Virginia H. Cockrell Centennial Chair of Engineering in the Cockrell School. He holds faculty positions in the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

At 97 years old, Goodenough continues to push the boundaries of materials science with the goal of inventing more sustainable and energy-efficient battery materials. Goodenough and his team recently identified a new safe cathode material for use in sodium-ion batteries.

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