Welch Foundation awards $500,000 to engineering professor

Brooke Vincent

Mechanical engineering professor John Goodenough will receive the $500,000 Welch Award in October for his pioneering research in lithium-ion rechargeable batteries that changed how the world uses portable electronic devices. 

The Welch Foundation is one of America’s largest private funding sources for the advancement of chemistry. Goodenough said the half-million dollars awarded will fund his most recent project, an all-solid-state battery cell. 

“It’s an exciting time for (my research team), and I’m very grateful to all those who support science and what we do,” Goodenough said. “I am very thankful to the Welch Foundation for what it does for Texas chemistry and (to) Cockrell, for its support for engineering at UT and its support of me.”

Goodenough, who is now 95 years old, said researchers must develop renewable and storable energy sources that can serve as an alternatives to unsustainable sources like fossil fuels.

“When you look at the highways, we are spewing gases out of tailpipes,” Goodenough said. “That is bad for human health, contributes to global warming and is not sustainable. So we have to find a way to restore electric power from alternative resources and store it in a battery that is compatible and rechargeable.”

Goodenough said he hopes the battery he is working on will be able to charge electric cars more quickly than existing batteries that use liquid electrolytes, making the new energy store a market competitor with the internal combustion engine that drives cars today.

The battery uses glass developed by senior research fellow Marina Braga. Goodenough said the glass possesses unique qualities that could solve problems previously present in the development of new batteries. Braga, who developed the glass in Portugal before moving to the U.S. to work with Goodenough, said she wants everyone to be able to use the battery worldwide. 

“I would like (this) to be a battery that is widely used not only in vehicles but also in the grid,” Braga said. “For example, during these hard times that we have these large blackouts, these batteries would be an important tool for when you want to harvest (and store) solar and wind energy.”

Chemistry junior Amanda Moss said she sees the larger implications of having professors who understand the importance of research. 

“Knowing that stuff that happens here goes on and impacts the world makes me look at myself and my schooling and realize stuff like this can make a difference,” Moss said.