John B. Goodenough, Lithium-Ion Battery Innovator, Dies at 100

By Battery Power Online Staff 

June 27, 2023 | John B. Goodenough, who shared the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing the lithium-ion battery, died on Sunday, June 25, 2023. He was 100. The University of Texas at Austin, where Dr. Goodenough was a professor of engineering, announced his death, calling him a “dedicated public servant, a sought-after mentor and a brilliant yet humble inventor.”

Born in 1922 in Germany, Goodenough grew up in the northeastern United States and attended the Groton School in Massachusetts. In 1944, he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Yale University. After serving as a meteorologist in the U.S. Army, Goodenough returned to complete a master’s degree and Ph.D., in 1952, both in physics from the University of Chicago. At the University of Chicago, he studied under Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi and John A. Simpson, both of whom worked on the Manhattan Project. His doctoral adviser was renowned physicist Clarence Zener.

Goodenough began his career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory in 1952, where he worked for 24 years and laid the groundwork for the development of random-access memory (RAM) for the digital computer. He emerged as a pioneer of orbital physics and one of the founders of the modern theory of magnetism, which became known as the Goodenough-Kanamori Rules. These rules provide a practical guidance in the research of magnetic materials and have a huge impact in developing devices in telecommunications.

After MIT, Goodenough became a professor and head of the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at the University of Oxford. Here, he identified and developed the critical cathode materials that provided the high-energy density needed to power electronics such as mobile phones, laptops and tablets, as well as electric and hybrid vehicles. In 1979, he and his research team found 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-based materials that allow for the use of stable and manageable negative electrodes in lithium-ion batteries.

He moved to UT Austin in 1986. In 1991, Sony Corp. commercialized the lithium-ion battery, for which Goodenough provided the foundation for a prototype. In 1996, a safer and more environmentally friendly cathode material was discovered in his research group, and, in 2020, a Canadian hydroelectric power company acquired the patents for this latest battery.

Goodenough’s quick wit and infectious laugh were defining characteristics, according to the University of Texas obituary. “That laugh could be heard reverberating through UT engineering buildings — you knew when Goodenough was on your floor, and you couldn’t help but smile at the thought of running into him,” the authors wrote.

“He was still coming into work well into his 90s. For him, there was no reason not to,” they continued. “Don’t retire too early!’ Goodenough told the Nobel Foundation and others. It was advice he frequently gave and certainly followed.”

In addition to the Nobel Prize—which he was awarded jointly with Stanley Whittingham of the State University of New York at Binghamton and Akira Yoshino of Meijo University—Goodenough was the recipient of the National Medal of Science, the Japan Prize, the Charles Stark Draper Prize, the Benjamin Franklin Medal, the Enrico Fermi Award, the Robert A. Welch Award, the Copley Medal and many others. He authored several books, including an autobiography titled “Witness to Grace,” published in 2008. Goodenough and his wife were married for over 70 years until her death in 2016. They had no children.