Unless you’re deeply into the history of electric and hybrid electric vehicle technology, the chances are you might not recognize the name of Stanford Ovshinsky.

But if you’ve ever driven a Toyota Prius Hybrid, or any number of all-electric cars with nickel-metal hydride battery packs, you’ll have used the revolutionary battery technology that he developed. 

As reported by The New York Times, Ovshinsky died on Wednesday night at his home in the suburbs of Detroit from complications associated with pancreatic cancer.

He was 89 years old. 

Unlike many of his peers, Ovshinsky never went to college, but earned an estimated 200 U.S. patents during his lifetime. 

He was also a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Ovshinsky’s work in the field of semiconductors, namely that small quantities or thin films of amorphous materials exposed to a charge can instantly reorganize their structures to carry large amounts of current, paved the way for everything from solar panels to flat-screen displays and rewritable compact discs. 

The field of study he invented, which he named “ovonics,” saw him compared to such luminaries as Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison.

2004-2009 Toyota Prius battery pack, second generation

2004-2009 Toyota Prius battery pack, second generation

It is Ovshinsky’s work with renewable energies, however, that most green car fans will remember him for. 

Working closely with his late second wife Iris Ovshinsky--an established scientist in her own right with degrees in zoology and biology, and a doctorate in biochemistry--Ovshinsky developed a new type of nickel metal hydride battery with a new internal structuring.

His modified battery technology allowed NiMH battery packs to be used in high-power drain situations for the first time, which, alongside a low self-discharge rate, made them ideal for use in electric and hybrid cars. 

While Ovshinsky’s new battery technology was a technological breakthrough, the auto industry wasn’t keen on adopting NiMH battery packs.

Thanks to a complicated story involving legal threats from major automakers, and several oil firms, the Ovionics NiMH battery design patent became incredibly difficult to license. 

Even so, the majority of today’s hybrid cars use the very battery technology which Ovshinsky helped develop, while his other inventions continue to directly impact almost every person who has ever used a computer, driven a hybrid, or generated their own electricity from roof-mounted photovoltaic solar panels. 

Ovshinsky, will be sorely missed.


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