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At 97, lithium-ion battery pioneer says his work is not done (acs.org)
126 points by sohkamyung 76 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments

I'm torn on Goodenough's (and his other main author, Maria Helena Braga) academic contributions lately. They are doing a lot of investigation into glass electrolytes, something that is very important and potentially the future of li-ion. Sodium-ion batteries are also intriguing, although at this point it's questionable they'd be cheaper.

Solid state batteries may eventually be much smaller (heavier, but more energy per kg as well) and hopefully cheaper. Volume is one of the main drivers of the cost of batteries, simply because it's proportional to the amount of material processing. Increasing the specific energy (watt-hours per kg) of a chemistry typically means you can cheaply tweak a material input and your production line is suddenly far more productive.

Nobody has a great pitch on how we'll actually make solid state batteries at scale, but if we figure it out it'll probably also mean we can stop using so many solvents. Currently both the anode and cathode are made from a very carefully curated mix of very tiny spherical grains. Great pains are taken to produce a properly sized mix of sizes as close to spherical as possible- spheres make the chemical reaction as uniform as possible, and the size of the grain determines the ratio of charge (volume) to the rate charge can flow (surface area). It's critically important to tune those to match your performance profile and minimize stress on the battery.

The solvents come in to the picture when you need to spread these materials onto copper/aluminum sheets without letting it compress too much, so it mixes with the electrolyte and doesn't crush the grains. You mix the material in with volatile liquids, spread it ever so carefully to keep it even, and then bake it under heat to drive off the solvent, which is recaptured. That solvent is one of the greatest current health risks and pollution sources during the production of batteries. Some is lost and just being around the stuff is not great for you. Obviously you'll have a better recovery at LG than in some random Chinese factory, but the pollution and risk to health is a loss for the whole of humanity.

ANYWAY: Goodenough's/Braga's research output! It's... very sketchy. They've published a number of papers that make extraordinary claims, some of which implicitly break the conservation of energy. There's a real lack of rigor, and a lot of questionable choices. They often present information that obscures the real performance of their work- like showing a battery under maximum discharge (without giving cycle life) and maximum cycle life (without giving discharge). Matt Lacey did a really excellent review[1] of two 2017 and 2018 papers.

I haven't read his latest papers and I have to get to work unfortunately. If you want to read them, Maria Helena Braga is excellent about sharing her work freely, and puts everything up [2]. It's a real credit to her and despite my criticisms she is a great scientist because of it. I really, genuinely hope to be excited by his research without seeing claims about ever-increasing capacity, or batteries that plate lithium on the anode. I really hope he gets a Nobel and I think that LCO (his original creation) absolutely deserves one. May update this once I check out his latest. Meanwhile, here's a twitter album of making a pouch battery! [3]

[1]: http://lacey.se/2018/07/05/glass-battery-part-2/

[2]: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Maria_Braga4

[3]: https://twitter.com/realscientists/status/106450287687207731...

Care to share how you do this?

Scientific work aside, I'm more interested in how he's still this sharp at 97?

Having your choice of thesis advisors be Enrico Fermi and Clarence Zener must have been awesome, even if neither of them wanted grad students at the time.

I've read this same story a few times now.

Clearly not good enough yet? :-)

In the interview, it's mentioned that tuition was $900 in 1940 at Yale. That works out to $16,493.85 in "2019 Dollars". Yale costs $49,480 today. I apologize for being off topic but I wonder if John was college age today, what college would he have attended with very limited parental support, $35 specifically.

To continue the OT: According to [0] which quotes your $49,480 figure, the average net cost (after all financial aids) is $18,319. Still higher than the inflation adjusted price, and also disturbing that probably a large chunk of that aid becomes a transfer from the government to the colleges.

I just checked it out because I remember that a very small part of even Ivy League students pay sticker price.

[0]: https://www.collegedroid.com/colleges/yale-university/cost

Even my alma mater is $45,244 a year, and most kids definitely do not get a full ride like the big Ivy League schools. Education is absolutely ridiculous now.


also disturbing that probably a large chunk of that aid becomes a transfer from the government to the colleges

Please don't phrase it that way. College was free or nearly free in many parts of the country, especially California before Reagan removed funding. From what I can tell, the push towards private sector funding has only made college more expensive.

College used to be viewed as a public good in America, which means that an educated populace contributed more to society than the cost of its education (which is self-evidently true). In the 80s, republicans made the argument that it was unfair for non-attendees to subsidies attendees (which I agree with upon shallow inspection). This backfired (as predicted by democrats) by creating profit opportunities where none previously existed. So we ended up where we are today, with ballooning debt loads and artificial scarcity in college availability but only marginally more students attending.

What we should have done instead was adjust public education from k-12 to k-16 to compete with the rest of the world. We should have aimed for full attendance and built the campus infrastructure needed to accomplish that.

I think this can still be done, but it starts with getting everyone on the same page. Especially in STEM fields, so that we can provide the innovation needed to get back to providing full educations in liberal arts. That will prepare us for the coming automation age post-2040 where the remaining work available is in humanities (like on Star Trek).

College tuition has become another industry where MSRP is significantly higher than actual price to make the buyer think he's getting a "deal."

This only applies to retail buyers; governments and corporate sponsors pay the full fare.

Most Ivy Leagues today offer ridiculous financial aid packages to those who need it. He probably could have gone for less than $16k in 2019 dollars.

He could go to school very reasonably, even today, at City College of New York, and be in good company


The amazing thing about the city (CUNY) and state (SUNY) university systems in New York is that not only are they incredibly affordable at sticker prices, but if you're a resident of New York, and if your family earns less than $125,000 a year, then tuition is zero -- completely free[1]. (Of course, you have to pay for food and housing.)

[1] Through the Excelsior Scholarship: (a) SUNY: https://www.suny.edu/smarttrack/types-of-financial-aid/schol... (b) CUNY: https://www2.cuny.edu/financial-aid/scholarships/excelsior-s...

Exactly. There's nothing wrong with Harvard, of course, but it's not "fatal" if you don't go there.

I'd rather see the U.S. spend a trillion dollars making sure there are good public colleges within commuting distance of 90% of Americans than a trillion dollars forgiving student loans (and then the U.S. should get out of the student loan business!).

Don't know what the cut off is, but at Harvard you go for free if you can't afford it as well no?

He may not have needed to attend, today. I think as the academy cuts its stomach to spite the truth, you'll see more independent research occur at a greater variety of places. With the innovations in methodology coming down the pipe, the quality of research from people who may not even be formally trained will improve; pre-registration, more flexible delivery of research data, the radical expansion in the availability of base knowledge.

Basic research will probably suffer, but that seems not to be a concern of the people running those institutions into the ground. I do hope we can find some way to encourage competent people to do large volumes of basic research, and aggressively reproduce studies which are cited.

Americans buy altogether too much education: you can buy all the mechanical keyboards you want, but you'll still have to actually learn to type.

The median income for a man in 1940 was $956. In 2010, the median income was $33,276. Women in 1940 earned 62 cents for every dollar a man earned. In 2010, women earned 74 cents for every dollar a man earned. In 2019 the income numbers probably has grown by another 20% just because of inflation.

So basically education cost grows only slightly faster than median income. Given the biggest portion of the cost is human capital, this makes economical sense.

reference: https://www.npr.org/2012/04/02/149575704/the-1940-census-72-...

Median personal income has not, in fact, been keeping pace with inflation. The median personal income (men and women) in Sep 2016 was $31,099.[0] Which means the $47,600 tuition ($62200 with mandatory room and board)[1] was 1.53x (2.00x) the median personal income in 2016, versus 0.94x in 1940. I'd consider that more than slightly faster growth, especially since most of that proportional growth has happened in the years from 1980 to present, rather than the full 79 years since 1940.[2]

[0] https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MEPAINUSA672N [1] https://finaid.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/EA_FYYE_Cl... [2] https://yalealumnimagazine.com/articles/4074-the-cost-of-yal...

There was an interesting Planet Money Indicator episode recently that explains why things like tuition tend to outpace inflation. It's called the Baumol Effect. https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757257796/how-a-string-quarte...

It's a highly simplistic theory that fails to take into account the irrationality of economic activity. Yet another economic theory trying to oversimplify psychology with numbers.

How many workers actually have the capability of choosing between vastly different fields? There are dozens of factors that lead to people choosing career paths in the short, medium, and long term. Evidence in support of this Baumol effect is at best a correlation and not really an explanation or causation.

Baumol Effect does not really explain much, in fact there are a lot of examples that directly contradict it. Check the section 3 of https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/02/09/considerations-on-cost....

There was also much less demand for college back then. Much fewer people went to college, so schools couldn't charge too exorbitant prices. On the other hand, a Yale degree today is so valuable that Yale could probably easily fill their class with good candidates even at $100k/year price point. Recent admissions bribery scandal proves that quite well.

Clinton in 1998 made student debt unbankruptable; which makes all student debt prime investment because you know you're going to get paid back.

This has the unintended consequence that universities can keep raising tuition and you have to pay it. They will keep raising tuition far in excess of this.

Student loans were made completely non-dischargable in 2005, well after Bill Clinton left office.


He vetoed an earlier form of the bankruptcy bill in 2000.

Notably Elizabeth Warren lobbied against this bankruptcy bill in one of her major forays into national politics.


He did sign the Higher Education Amendment in 1998, however that was bipartisan and near unanimous in both Congress. That bill introduced federally funded work study, and new types of loans such as PLUS and Perkins loans which did likely contribute to the cost inflation. It appears support for increased financialization of education went across the aisle at that time.

Well, it was pretty bipartisan, and over the past decades since the mid-70s loopholes have been slowly closing--in 2005 the ability to discharge loans for nonprofit schools was eliminated.

Weirdly, attempts to roll back these ridiculous restrictions have been bipartisan, too. In 2007, Hillary Clinton tried to restore the 7 year limit, and right now there's some Republican senator whose name I can't remember pushing a bill that would eliminate the hardship test.

Bankruptcy prevents banks and schools from shunting all the risk onto students. Given the state of higher ed, going to school isn't a guaranteed paycheck, and they need to stop lending like it is. This will hopefully force schools to control tuition costs.

Or we can just make college free. :)

But it has the intended consequence of letting people from historically marginalized groups get loans, like African Americans.

A fantastic goal that's sadly incorrect. African Americans graduating university is still a very low rate.

So the goal was not successful, but the consequences is as bad as ever. The mistake made by Clinton now has this major issue that's being discussed by the Democratic presidential nominees. https://time.com/5613425/student-loan-forgiveness-bernie-san...

I suspect the better solution would have been Clinton not screwing up in the first place; but better yet until this is fixed the tuition problem will continue to be worse and worse.

His last name is hysterical for a scientist if I’ll be honest!

For bonus points his middle initial is B.


Go Johnny go!

(After demonstrating a lithium cobalt battery cathode in the early '80s)

"I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it."

It didn’t happen to be a 1.21GW battery did it?

Charging stations? Where we’re going we don’t need charging stations.

My reaction was the same; sounds like the name of an engineer...

It's a non-aptronym - John's acheivements appears to not be Goodenough for him.

the title itself. "his job is not done, even if it's Goodenough".

It's likely related to the name that is more commonly spelled Goodnow.

not goodenough


His work isn't done, but I'd say it's definitely good enough.

I'll get my coat.

He missed a chance to say it’s not “good enough”

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