Magazine article Black Enterprise

Charging Ahead: Lonnie Johnson Takes a Different Road to Alternative Energy

Magazine article Black Enterprise

Charging Ahead: Lonnie Johnson Takes a Different Road to Alternative Energy

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

WITH A MIND TOWARD ENERGY INDEPENDENCE, President Barack Obama's administration has made it a priority to put 1 million electric cars on the road in the next four years. Atlanta-based scientist Lonnie G. Johnson has been working toward that goal for nearly 20 years. In fact, he was trying to construct a device to produce alternative sources of energy when he unexpectedly invented the Super Soaker water gun in 1989.

But Johnson, a former NASA scientist with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a master's degree in nuclear engineering, hopes his legacy will stand for something far more important than a children's toy, He has put much of the money he made from the Super Soaker into two projects: the lithium air battery and the JTEC (Johnson Thermo-Electrochemical Converter) system.

The lithium air battery reacts to oxygen from its surroundings instead of reacting to corrosive metal materials that are stored inside traditional batteries. It is lighter than conventional battery cathode materials and lasts longer since oxygen is an unlimited reactant. Last year Johnson and his team became the first researchers to use a rechargeable lithium air battery to power a device. They started small by powering a remote control car--a suitable choice since the objective is to one day power electric vehicles. Johnson calls the lithium air battery "a game changer," claiming it can power a vehicle for more than 1,000 miles on a single charge. By comparison, the Chevy Volt has a 16-kWh lithium-ion battery that lasts only 40 miles before it switches to its gas engine. …

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