Three scientists, widely regarded as the pioneers of the modern day lithium-ion battery, have won this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
The Nobel committee for Chemistry acknowledged how the scientists’ work had helped reshape energy storage, reduced the world’s reliance on fossil fuels, and revolutionized cars, mobile phones and several other devices.
John B. Goodenough, 97, a German-born engineering professor at the University of Texas; M. Stanley Whittingham, 77, a British-American chemistry professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton; and Japan’s Akira Yoshino, 71, of Asahi Kasei Corporation and Meijo University, were the awardees.
Goodenough also holds the distinction of being the oldest person to ever win a Nobel Prize.
All three scientists cumulatively laid the foundation for the world’s first truly portable and rechargeable batteries which took more than a decade to develop.
Their work had its roots in the oil crisis in the 1970s, when Whittingham was working on efforts to develop fossil fuel-free energy technologies.
He harnessed the enormous tendency of the lightest metal on the periodic table – lithium – to give away its electrons to make a battery capable of generating just over two volts.
By 1980, Goodenough had doubled the capacity of the battery to four volts by using cobalt oxide in the cathode – one of two electrodes, along with the anode, that make up the ends of a battery.
But that battery remained too explosive for general commercial use and needed to be tamed.
That’s where Yoshino’s work in the 1980s came in: Yoshino substituted petroleum coke, a carbon material, in the battery’s anode.
This helped pave way for the first lightweight, safe, durable and rechargeable commercial batteries to be built and enter the market in 1991.
No doubt, the production of lithium-ion batteries has had an impact on the environment, but it has also brought in numerous environmental benefits.
“We have gained access to a technical revolution,” stated Sara Snogerup Linse of the Nobel committee for chemistry, praising the scientists’ contribution in helping create a wireless and fossil fuel-free society.
“The ability to store energy from renewable sources – the sun, the wind – opens up for sustainable energy consumption.”
Image and original content: Physics Today/Associated Press via PhysOrg