Two Americans, one Japanese share 2019 Chemistry Nobel
10 October 2019
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry jointly to three scientists - two American and one Japanese – ”for the development of lithium-ion batteries” that revolutionised travel and communication.
John B Goodenough of the University of Texas at Austin (USA), M Stanley Whittingham of Binghamton University, State University of New York (USA) and Akira Yoshino of Asahi Kasei Corporation, Tokyo, Japan and Meijo University, Nagoya, Japan, will equally share the prize amount of 9 million Swedish krona.
“Through their work, they have created the right conditions for a wireless and fossil fuel-free society, and so brought the greatest benefit to humankind,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences stated in a release.
“The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2019 rewards the development of the lithium-ion battery. This lightweight, rechargeable and powerful battery is 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,” Göran K Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said while announcing the prize award.
Lithium-ion batteries are used globally to power the portable electronics that we use to communicate, work, study, listen to music and search for knowledge. Lithium-ion batteries have also enabled the development of long-range electric cars and the storage of energy from renewable sources, such as solar and wind power.
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, the Swedish Academy said.
John Goodenough predicted that the cathode would have even greater potential if it was made using a metal oxide instead of a 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.
Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionised our lives since they first entered the market in 1991. They have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind.
John B Goodenough was born 1922 in Jena, Germany. He received his PhD in 1952 from the University of Chicago, USA. He was Virginia H Cockrell Chair in Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, USA.
M Stanley Whittingham was born in 1941 in the UK. He received his PhD from Oxford University, UK in 1968. He was Distinguished Professor at Binghamton University, State University of New York, USA.
Akira Yoshino was born in 1948 in Suita, Japan. He received his PhD from Osaka University, Japan in 2005. He was Honorary Fellow at Asahi Kasei Corporation, Tokyo, Japan and professor at Meijo University, Nagoya, Japan.