Energy innovator Stanford Ovshinsky dead at 89
In 1999, Time magazine named Ovshinsky a "Hero for the Planet."
DETROIT -- Stanford Ovshinsky, an inventor and founder of Energy Conversion Devices Inc. who dedicated his life to finding alternative forms of energy, died Wednesday of cancer at his home in suburban Detroit. He was 89.
His inventions are used in a wide variety of electronics, and gasoline-electric hybrids, including the Toyota Prius.
His development of the nickel-metal hydride battery helped the Prius become the world's first successful hybrid car. It is the best-selling hybrid vehicle worldwide today.
Ovshinsky's patented NiMH battery chemistry was also used in millions of electronic devices such as laptop computers, digital cameras and mobile phones.
He was awarded more than 400 patents in the United States and more than 800 foreign patents covering a range of technologies, including nickel-metal hydride batteries, rewritable CDs, DVD optical discs, flat-screen liquid crystal displays, hydrogen fuel cells, thin-film solar cells and others.
Ovshinsky was often hailed in the scientific community and by the media. In 1987, he was profiled as "Japan's American Genius" in the PBS television series "Nova." In 1999, Time magazine named him a "Hero for the Planet." Britain's Economist magazine in 2006 dubbed Ovshinsky "the Edison of our age."
He was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1922 and attended trade school at night to earn a high school degree. He moved to Detroit in 1952 to become director of research at Hupp Corp. and continued to teach himself physics and chemistry.
In 1960, when gasoline was 25 cents a gallon, he founded ECD in a small Detroit lab with his wife, Iris, who had a doctorate in chemistry. They were on a tight budget, and their goals were to find more efficient ways to produce energy and to make better batteries and electronic switches.
They soon invented the amorphous switch, which is now a key component in a variety of electronics today. It was based on science for which he coined "ovonics." The concept was met with resistance by the science community but eventually was accepted.
After Bob Stempel was forced out as General Motors chairman in 1993, Stempel became ECD's chairman and CEO.
Ovshinsky and Stempel were forced out of ECD in 2007, and the company focused on solar roofing but went bankrupt during the recession.
Instead of a comfortable retirement, Ovshinsky founded Ovshinsky Solar LLC to try to make solar cells so efficient they could compete with coal-fired electricity at a low cost.
He started the company not to prove his former board members wrong but because he still wanted to change the world, he told Crain's Detroit Business.
In 2010 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Michigan.
This year he was nominated as a finalist for the European Investor Award 2012 for development of his nickel-metal hydride batteries. Ovshinsky had a reputation for donating to a range of charities.
He is survived by his brother and longtime partner at ECD, Herbert; his third wife, Rosa, an ECD scientist; three children; four stepchildren; and six grandchildren.
For a more thorough look at the life of Stanford Ovshinsky by Tom Henderson of Crain's Detroit Business, click here.
Theresa Clift and Reuters contributed to this report.
You can reach Tom Henderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.