Lithium-ion battery pioneers win Nobel Chemistry Prize 2019

Akira Yoshino | Photo: Niklas Elmehed. © Nobel Media.

Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm proclaimed three scientists – John B Goodenough of the University of Texas at Austin, M Stanley Whittingham of Binghamton University, and Akira Yoshino of Meijo University – for their groundbreaking contribution in the development of the lithium-ion batteries that we know of today. The three will share the 9 million Swedish kronor ($905,000) Nobel Chemistry Prize as part of their undoubted contributions in the field of chemistry.

The work done by the three scientists lays the foundation of the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that have become a staple in our daily lives. Lithium-ion batteries can be found in everyday objects like smartphones, appliances, and other gadgets. These batteries can store a significant amount of energy, even from renewable sources like solar and wind power. The discovery and development of the lithium-ion have led to a global revolution on energy conservation and the end of the era of fossil fuels.

“Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionized our lives and are used in everything from mobile phones to laptops and electric vehicles. Through their work, this year’s Chemistry Laureates have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil-fuel-free society,” reads a Tweet from the official Twitter account of the distinguished award-giving body, Nobel Prize.

The battery-research community has since been nominating the innovation, whose foundations were based on the works of the aforementioned scientist, and has consistently lobbied for the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Many of them believe that the award given to the three new laureates is long overdue since their works have started as early as the 1970s.

The pioneering research on lithium-ion batteries was conducted by Whittingham during the oil crisis in the 1970s when he invented a cathode that could be used to hold lithium ions.

“In the early 1970s, Stanley Whittingham awarded this year’s Chemistry Prize, used lithium’s enormous drive to release its outer electron when he developed the first functional lithium battery,” the Nobel Prize tweet continued.

The research was built upon by John Goodenough a decade later after he demonstrated that the battery could hold four volts of charge. Basing on the earlier works of the first two laureates, Akira Yoshino then created the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery, five years after the demonstration of Goodenough.

After years of the continued rally from the battery-research community, the Nobel Committee finally recognized these years the works of the three researchers for laying the “foundations of a wireless, fossil-fuel-free society.”

Professor Yoshino, in an interview with reporters after the announcement of the new winners of the Nobel Chemistry Prize, said that winning the recognition was “amazing” and “surprising.” He said that his contributions are part of the global campaign against the climate crisis, which he referred to as a “very serious issue for humankind.”

The Nobel Week, a week dedicated to announcing this year’s laureates, started this Monday with the announcement of the Medicine prize recipients for their contribution in the field of physiology for works in understanding how cells adapt and respond to changes of oxygen availability. On Tuesday, the Nobel Physics Prize laureates were declared for their works on cosmology. Throughout this week, other laureates are expected to be announced in the field of literature and peace.

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