October 11, 2017 by Denis Pombriant
Making a better, higher capacity battery has been a quest that has consumed scientists and engineers for decades. But progress has been painfully slow because a battery is essentially a liquid chemical device that turns chemical energy into electricity at rates that are limited by the chemistry involved. In other words, battery chemistry sets a speed limit on how fast a battery can produce power. The same is true for recharging batteries, you can only charge a battery as fast as the chemistry allows.
All this has stymied electric carmakers. They’ve been able to design and build some amazing vehicles but their Achilles heel comes down to the range a car can drive before needing to recharge and then the time it takes to bring the battery back.
But there is groundbreaking news coming out of the University of Texas where a team led by the 94-year-old co-inventor of the lithium battery has filed a patent application for a solid-state battery. If further research and the patent application process prove out, this could mean a new era for electric cars and other devices that need prolonged electric power.
John Goodenough is a professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. He and senior research fellow Maria Helena Braga have what they think is a design for a low-cost, all-solid-state battery that’s based on Braga’s work with dry, glass electrodes. The glass electrodes enable a design that’s more compact and has high rates of charging and discharge. Best of all from a manufacturing perspective, the battery design uses common materials rather than exotics metals like lithium, which can easily ignite.
If all of the early promise pays off, this development could be enough to propel electric cars into the market in greater numbers because it will also do a lot for affordability.
On this site we often discuss long wave economic cycles or K-waves that unfold over many decades. A cycle begins when one or more disruptive technological innovations reaches the market and inspires inventors and entrepreneurs to develop new solutions that incorporate the innovation. Often at the outset of a K-wave, some innovations are still in the future. As The Age of Sustainability kicks off, the solid state battery may be just the kind of early innovation that pushes civilization to new heights.