Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded for Work on Lithium-Ion Batteries

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2019 has been awarded jointly to Akira Yoshino, John B. Goodenough and M. Stanley Whittingham for the development of lithium-ion batteries.

Making the announcement in Stockholm, the Nobel Committee said that the winners have “created a rechargeable world’, underscoring the critical role their find has made in our lives today.

“The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2019 rewards the development of the lithium-ion battery. This lightweight, rechargeable and powerful batteries are now used in everything from mobile phones to laptops and electric vehicles. It can also store significant amounts of energy from solar and wind power, making possible a fossil fuel-free society,” the committee said.

The foundation of the lithium-ion battery was laid during the oil crisis in the 1970s. Stanley Whittingham worked on developing methods that could lead to fossil-fuel-free energy technologies. He started to research superconductors and discovered an extremely energy-rich material, which he used to create an innovative cathode in a lithium battery. This was made from titanium disulphide which, at a molecular level, has spaces that can house – intercalate – lithium ions.

The battery’s anode was partially made from metallic lithium, which has a strong drive to release electrons. This resulted in a battery that literally had great potential, just over two volts. However, metallic lithium is reactive and the battery was too explosive to be viable.

John Goodenough predicted that the cathode would have even greater potential if it was made using a metal oxide instead of metal sulphide. After a systematic search, in 1980 he demonstrated that cobalt oxide with intercalated lithium ions can produce as much as four volts. This was an important breakthrough and would lead to much more powerful batteries.

With Goodenough’s cathode as a basis, Akira Yoshino created the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery in 1985. Rather than using reactive lithium in the anode, he used petroleum coke, a carbon material that, like the cathode’s cobalt oxide, can intercalate lithium ions.

The result was a lightweight, hardwearing battery that could be charged hundreds of times before its performance deteriorated. The advantage of lithium-ion batteries is that they are not based upon chemical reactions that break down the electrodes but upon lithium ions flowing back and forth between the anode and cathode.

Every moment of our lives now is touched by their work and their find ever since the batteries first entered the market in 1991. The many gadgets and technology that make or lives these days are powered by their work, and their effort.

“They have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil-fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind,” the committee said. The Nobel Prize winners for 2019 will get Swedish kronor 9 million, a gold medal and a diploma.

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