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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry


Three scientists (from left) John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham, and Akira Yoshino have won the 2019 Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work on lithium-ion batteries.

John B. Goodenough
The University of Texas at Austin, USA


M. Stanley Whittingham
Binghamton University, State University of New York, USA

Akira Yoshino
Asahi Kasei Corporation, Tokyo, Japan
Meijo University, Nagoya, Japan

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.

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 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 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.


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