Thomas Edison Likes the Glass Battery

Like Thomas Edison, John Goodenough is a life-long learner, and also like Edison, Goodenough is seeking to improve what he has already made.

You see, John Goodenough is the fellow who long ago co-invented lithium-ion storage batteries, those little fellows that now power electric vehicles and many of our hand-held and other devices. Now at age 94, John has another idea to make his batteries even better; and people in the know are listening. He wants to create an electrolyte matrix of glass, doped with alkali metals, like lithium and sodium.

John Goodenough

John Goodenough

Edison cradling his nickel-iron storage battery—alleged to have involved over 10,000 experiments to perfect.

Edison cradling his nickel-iron storage battery—alleged to have involved over 10,000 experiments to perfect.

The lithium- or sodium-doped glass electrolyte offers a new medium for novel battery chemistry and physics. The lithium- or sodium-glass battery has three times the energy storage capacity of a comparable lithium-ion battery. But its electrolyte is neither flammable nor volatile, and it doesn’t appear prone to internally shorting out [spiky “dendrites”]; that have plagued lithium-ions as they charge and discharge repeatedly. This could prevent the battery fires we have seen recently with consumer appliances that run on lithium-ion batteries.

The solid glass electrolyte would act more like a super capacitor. And if sodium can be used in place of lithium, that means a more abundant and less expensive source of raw material. Hey … you Tesla lithium-ion battery folks … you listening to this?

Edison’s work with his legendary nickel-iron storage batteries at the turn of the last century began the story of alkali storage battery technology. These batteries became the gold standard for electric storage in a wide variety of industries, including electric vehicles. Manufacturers still make nickel-iron storage batteries today.

Thomas Edison said, “Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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