It’s easy to forget just how essential lithium-ion batteries are to our daily lives. These rechargeable batteries are what supply power to pretty much every mobile device you own, from laptops to smartphones, which is why it’s a shame that so few people recognize the name John Goodenough, because he’s the man who invented these batteries. As if that wasn’t enough, the German-born professor and his team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin recently made a major breakthrough in sodium-ion battery technology, which could offer an infinitely cheaper alternative to lithium-ion batteries.
A team of researchers at the University of Texas, led by John Goodenough – the inventor of the lithium-ion battery, has developed a crucial component that could pave the way for cheap, safe sodium-ion rechargeable batteries. Batteries have three main components – an ‘anode’, a ‘cathode’ and the ‘electrolyte’. Chemical reactions in the electrolyte cause a build-up of electrons at the negatively-charged anode, which then flow through a circuit back to the positively-charged cathode. Goodenough and his team have been working for several years on sodium-ion batteries, which offer a promising alternative to the lithium-ion cells used in smartphones, laptops and electric cars around the world. Sodium is much more common than the far rarer lithium, making it much cheaper. To date, sodium-ion batteries have suffered poor performance, weight and safety compared to their lithium-ion cousins, but now Goodenough believes he’s found a cathode material that could change all that. It’s made of a non-toxic and inexpensive mineral called eldfellite.