Just last month, John B. Goodenough was finally awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. If the name isn’t familiar to you, his work will be. If you’re reading this on a smartphone or a laptop, you can do so because it is powered by a lithium-ion battery. In 1980, during his time as Head of the Inorganic Chemistry Department at Oxford, Professor Goodenough identified the cathode material that enabled development of the rechargeable lithium-ion battery. This breakthrough ushered in the age of portable electronic devices and the decline of the larger and less efficient nickel metal hydride batteries. It is impossible to overstate how influential this discovery was and the impact it has had on modern life. From the phones we carry to the electric cars some of us drive, each and every consumer device we use today is powered by lithium-ion batteries.
But Goodenough’s contribution to modern technology didn’t start here. As a research scientist and team leader at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory for 24 years, he was part of the team responsible for developing random access memory. RAM is a form of computer memory that can be read and changed in any order, typically used to store working data. RAM allows data to be read or written in the same amount of time irrespective of the physical location inside the memory, in contrast with hard disks where the time required to read and write data items varies significantly depending on their physical locations on the recording medium due to mechanical limitations such as media rotation speeds. So, it’s fair to say he is the father of modern computing as well.
What comes next?
At 97 years old, one might think that Goodenough has contributed enough to society, bringing not one but two breakthrough technologies to the masses. Instead, it transpires that Goodenough is working on what may be his most important discovery yet; solid state batteries. In simple terms, a conventional lithium-ion battery is made up of an anode, cathode and electrolyte. The anode and cathode store the lithium and the electrolyte carries positively charged lithium ions from the anode to the cathode. The movement of the lithium ions creates free electrons in the anode which creates a charge and this electrical current then flows through a device being powered.
Solid-state batteries improve upon lithium-ion batteries by using a solid electrolyte in place of a liquid or polymer electrolyte. It just so happens that this change improves upon the characteristics of conventional battery in every way; they’re much smaller and lighter, have a lower environmental impact and use plentiful components thanks to the ability to substitute lithium with low-cost sodium, the sixth most abundant element on earth. But the real advantages are in storage and charging times. Not only do solid state batteries last around 1,200 charge cycles compared to 500 with lithium-ion, the batteries actually get more efficient with use, not less. Solid state batteries hold around twice as much power as a lithium-ion battery and have a much shorter charging time – minutes rather than hours.
What does this mean for Electricians?
Consider the Nissan Leaf, the best-selling electric car in the UK. It currently offers a range of 168 miles at a cost of £27,995 at time of writing. Now imagine if the same car were priced at £24,995 and had a range of 350 miles – How many more people would make the switch to an electric car? Now consider the Tesla Model 3 with a range of 348 miles. If the range were 700+ miles, range anxiety would never be a consideration again. In fact, as soon as solid state batteries become mainstream, the days of the internal combustion engine will be numbered. This means a huge spike in EV charge points needed across the UK and not enough qualified electricians to install them. Any electrician wishing to take advantage of this upcoming boom should seriously consider qualifying as an EV charge point installer with one of our C&G approved ev courses.
Another growth area will be solar photovoltaics. Although solar PV has seen a downturn in recent years since the government grant was discontinued in 2015, the cheaper price and increased storage thanks to solid state batteries will bring about an enormous resurgence. EDF, e-on and Ovo already sell their own home energy storage devices allowing customers to store energy from solar panels for use at another time. Consider how attractive similar systems will become when the batteries are significantly cheaper and smaller with a higher storage capacity. The impending ban on Gas boilers in 2025 as well as Petrol and Diesel cars in 2040 will put an unprecedented strain on the National Grid with our personal consumption of electricity reaching record highs. For many consumers, solar PV will become an exceptionally attractive and cost-effective way of meeting their personal demands. As the only training provider in the UK to offer solar PV training on a raised roof, teaching you the fundamentals of working at height in the real world, there’s no better place to train to become a qualified installer than with Trade Skills 4U.
To view all of our renewable technology courses visit our website at www.tradeskills4u.co.uk or give one of our Course Advisors a call on 0845 856 4448 and find out how training in renewables can future proof your business.