Goodenough, lithium battery co-creator, dies aged 100

John Goodenough said he never dreamed the lithium battery would revolutionise electronics.

John Goodenough said he never dreamed the lithium battery would revolutionise electronics. Photo: AAP

John Goodenough, who shared the 2019 Nobel prize in chemistry for his work developing the lithium-ion battery that transformed technology with rechargeable power for devices ranging from mobile phones, computers, and pacemakers to electric cars, has died at 100, the University of Texas says.

Professor Goodenough died on Sunday (local time) at an assisted living facility in Austin, the university announced.

No cause of death was given.

Professor Goodenough was a faculty member at Texas for nearly 40 years.

He was the oldest person to receive a Nobel prize when he shared the award with British-born US scientist M Stanley Whittingham and Japan’s Akira Yoshino.

“Live to 97 and you can do anything,” Professor Goodenough said when the Nobel was awarded, adding he was grateful he was not forced to retire at 65.

And while his name may not ring a bell to most, Professor Goodenough’s research helped unlock a revolution in technology now taken for granted in today’s world of portable phones, tablets and just about anything else with a plug-in port for a recharge.

Lithium-ion batteries were the first truly portable and rechargeable batteries, and they took more than a decade to develop.

Professor Whittingham said in 2019 that he had no inkling that his work decades ago would have such a profound effect on the world.

“We thought it would be nice and help in a few things,” Professor Goodenough said “but never dreamed it would revolutionise electronics and everything else”.

Professors Goodenough, Whittingham and Yoshino each had unique breakthroughs that laid the foundation for developing a commercial rechargeable battery and the three shared the $US900,000 ($1.3 million) Nobel prize.

Professor Whittingham’s work in the 1970s harnessed the tendency of lithium – the lightest metal – to give away its electrons to make a battery capable of generating just more than two volts.

By 1980, Professor Goodenough had built on Professor Whittingham’s work and doubled the battery’s capacity to four volts by using cobalt oxide in the cathode, one of the two electrodes that make up the ends of a battery.

That battery remained too explosive for general commercial use.

Professor Yoshino’s work in the 1980s eliminated the volatile pure lithium from the battery and instead opted for lithium ions that are safer.

The first lightweight, safe, durable and rechargeable commercial batteries entered the market in 1991.

Born in Jena, Germany, in 1922, Professor Goodenough grew up in the US and earned a PhD in chemistry from the University of Chicago.

He began his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his research laid the groundwork for development of random-access memory for the digital computer.

Professor Goodenough was head of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at the University of Oxford in England when he made his lithium-ion discovery.

He joined the Texas faculty in 1986 and was still teaching and researching battery materials and solid-state science and engineering problems when he won the Nobel prize.

Professor Goodenough and his wife Irene were married for 70 years until her death in 2016.

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