How politicians deprived SA of major technological breakthrough.
In 1994 our new government closed down the battery research unit at the CSIR in Pretoria. It was perhaps the worst decision on technical matters by any government since the central planners of the old Soviet Union decided there was no future in transistors and cranked up the production of vacuum tube radio valves. The unit, under the leadership of Dr Michael Thackeray, had just achieved a major breakthrough in the lithium ion batteries which now power cell phones, tablets, laptops and electric cars. Our government couldn’t see it (see Nose187).
Professor John Goodenough of Texas is generally credited with the invention of lithium batteries, but it was Thackeray, a UCT-educated chemist, who invented the use of spinel oxides that turned the lithium-ion battery into the best battery we have today. Thackeray is now at Argonne National Research Laboratory in Chicago.
Further improvements in lithium-ion technology will soon find their way into the biggest lithium-ion battery factory in the world.