Stanford Ovshinsky, 1922- 2012

Ovshinsky© Stanford Ovshinsky/ Energy Conversion Devices

The Economist once called Stanford Ovshinsky "The Edison of our age". In some ways, he was more like Tesla; he was ridiculed by many, and blew through hundreds of millions of investors money.

His 400 patents include the nickel metal hydride battery, which would have made him extremely rich if he hadn't sold most of the rights upfront for much needed cash instead of a bigger royalty. He also invented an entire class of amorphous semiconductors that are now used in thin-film photovoltaics. In 2003 Forbes wrote a vicious article covering his various inventions and companies and called Energy Conversion Devices (ECD) “a high-tech Roach Motel” where “the money goes in but it never comes out."

Ovshinsky is completely heedless of the trail of woe behind him, speaking in ciphers when pressed to defend his track record. "Value and profitability are the measurements you make, because otherwise you aren't really successful," he says. Yet he considers ECD a smashing success. "We've been able to win our way in energy, in rewritable DVDs. Everything we make becomes so common that you don't even know that it is our stuff."

Like the powerful nickel-metal-hydride battery in the Toyota Prius that he drives to work every day, the one with the license plate OVONIC. Ovshinsky proudly takes credit for the car, claiming he invented the "enabling technology" that helps power the gas-electric hybrid. Could be, but it doesn't earn him a cent.

The Henry Ford Museum was kinder in their interview of him in 2009, writing:

Stan Ovshinsky has a mission. He wants to save the planet and solve the world’s problems through science and technology. He wants to replace fossil fuels with non-carbon-based renewable energy sources, such as solar and hydrogen power.... Most of his research has been to develop sources of energy that don’t harm the planet and that can be readily available to all peoples.

Stanford Ovshinsky, a green pioneer, dead at 89. More in the New York Times

Related Content on