Engineering professor John Goodenough recognized for work on lithium-ion battery

Kate Dannenmaier

For his work on the lithium-ion battery, engineering professor John Goodenough will receive the Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering — one of the world’s preeminent awards for engineering achievement from the National Academy of Engineering.

Goodenough, a professor in the departments of mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering, has worked at the University for 28 years. 

“It was a pleasant surprise,” Goodenough said.

Goodenough and his collaborators Yoshio Nishi, Rachid Yazami and Akira Yoshino will accept the award at a ceremony in Washington D.C. on Feb. 18 and split the $500,000 prize.

Goodenough first began work on the lithium-ion battery after a series of oil price shocks caused an energy crisis in the 1970s. In 1979, he was able to show that by using lithium cobalt and graphite, he could create a stable battery with a high density of stored energy. The battery was licensed to the Sony Corp.

“The Sony Corp. made the first cell telephone, and that initiated the wireless revolution,” Goodenough said.

Electrical engineering senior Angus Ranson said Goodenough’s work on the battery has had a major impact on virtually all modern consumer electronics.

“The lithium-ion battery has revolutionized the world of portable electronics by providing lightweight, high-energy density means of providing power to common and popular devices like cell phones and laptops,” Ranson said.

John Halton, associate dean at the Cockrell School of Engineering, said Goodenough’s work had a universal impact.

“He invented something that has affected the life of every person on the planet because we would have no hope of having mobile communication without the lithium-ion battery,” Halton said. 

In 2001, Goodenough received the Japan Prize for his work on the lithium-ion battery, and in 2013 he was awarded the National Medal of Science for his lasting contributions to materials science and technology.

Halton said that despite his age and many existing accomplishments, Goodenough is still hard at work. 

“He’s very passionate, very hard working,” Halton said. “At his age, over 90, he’s still as sharp as he was when he was a teenager.”

Goodenough said he and his colleagues are still working to improve the lithium-ion battery.

“We are developing new strategies for the lithium-ion battery to try to make it cost-competitive with fossil fuels, so that we can have electric cars and store electrical energy coming from wind farms and solar farms,” Goodenough said.