Woman with charging connector for an electric car in her hand

Full charge ahead: the history of the battery


Full charge ahead: the history of the battery

May 14, 2019

The US physicist John B. Goodenough developed the lithium-ion battery in 1979, paving the way for today's electric cars – and those of the future.

Discover here:

  • How a 96-year-old is influencing the future of electric mobility
  • Where the foundation was laid for today's lithium-ion battery
  • Who first launched the rechargeable battery on the market
  • How the father of the lithium-ion battery succeeded in his next technological breakthrough

Few people know the name of the 96-year-old Goodenough. But around four decades ago, he invented something that billions of people use every day: the rechargeable battery. Whether in a smartphone, cordless screwdriver or electric car – the energy cell has become an integral part of our daily lives.

The physicist has spent more than 60 years researching and has once again set to work for tomorrow's electric vehicles.

A young woman sitting in a car looking at her smartphone.
An invention from Oxford (with preliminary work in Munich) powers the world: lithium-ion batteries are now the standard in smartphones, electric vehicles and many electrical appliances.

The lithium battery: a bumpy career

In 1970, researchers at the Technical University of Munich investigated how lithium batteries function. The team laid the foundation for the development of today's lithium batteries. Initially, however, the research findings met with little response.  After their publication, it took ten years until the first functioning lithium cobalt dioxide accumulator was developed at Oxford University in 1980. This was the university at which Goodenough led the research team and whose battery development would go on to make him the father of lithium technology.

Compared to earlier models such as lead batteries, Goodenough's battery was much lighter, more powerful and, above all, had a longer life – a critical factor when used in electric cars.

Despite the finished product, the breakthrough was a long time coming – the reason being a lack of commercial demand. It was not until 1991 that Sony released the first lithium-ion battery on the German market in a video camera and the lithium-based technology received the attention it deserved. The battery had an output of 1,200 mAh. By comparison: today's models have a battery capacity of up to 6,900 mAh.

A milestone in battery history: a new super battery for electric cars

Despite his historic success, Goodenough is not thinking of retiring. In 2017, he achieved another technological breakthrough. At a university in Texas, the venerable researcher developed a battery based on glass electrolytes and alkali metals. This discovery will be of crucial importance, above all for increasing the range of future electric vehicles. Compared to the usual lithium-ion batteries, this battery should be able to hold 300 percent more charge, recharge faster and be much cheaper to manufacture. Three advantages for electric mobility that should not be underestimated.

“As long as society is dependent on fossil fuels, there is still work to be done.”
John B. Goodenough
Physicist and Developer of the Lithium Battery
The inventor of the lithium battery sits at his desk.

The glass battery promises both: greater range and lower costs

Goodenough's latest milestone is by no means just a laboratory experiment. Instead, it has the potential to play a real role in the future of electric mobility and the functionality of the new battery has already been proven and patented.

It will likely take a few more years before the battery is ready for the market. It took a whole twelve years from the discovery of the lithium-ion battery to the final market breakthrough. Anyone who wants to write history needs a lot of patience. And, as in the case of John B. Goodenough, a long life.