The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2019 was awarded jointly to John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino for the development of lithium-ion batteries. An announcement to this effect was made by Professor Goran K. Hansson, Secretary-General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, on Wednesday, the 9th October 2019. Each of the three scientists will receive a gold medal, a diploma and an equal share of the 9 million Swedish Kronor prize money.

The lithium-ion battery has its roots in the oil crisis of the 1970s when Stanley Whittingham was finding ways to create renewable energy. His research lead to discovering an energy-rich material- titanium disulphide, which he used to create an innovative cathode- the positive terminal in a lithium battery. He made the anode- the negative terminal from metallic lithium. But there were limitations in the reactive properties of metallic lithium which would make them explosive. To prevent such hazards, these batteries couldn’t be put to use practically.

Since then, there was a lot of research and development by scientists, various proposals were made to bring about more appropriate materials or chemical components that would bring an improvement in functionality, shelf-life, that would enable high energy density and tolerance for extreme operating temperatures.

John B Goodenough built on Whittingham’s prototype and in 1980, after searching for the ideal material, Goodenough substituted titanium sulphide with cobalt oxide to boost the cathode’s potential in the lithium battery.

With Goodenough’s cathode as a basis, Akira Yoshino, in 1985, replaced the metal lithium in the anode with petroleum coke resulting in a lightweight yet powerful rechargeable battery easily workable for real-world applications. It was in 1991 that Sony and Asahi Kasei first released li-ion batteries commercially.

Today lithium-ion or li-ion batteries are inescapably used globally to power every portable electronic device from mobile phones to laptops, also having enabled the development of long-range electric vehicles. They can store significant amounts of energy from renewable sources, such as solar and wind power, making possible a fossil fuel-free society. These innovations are significant in the fight against global warming and are now also growing in popularity for military and aerospace applications.

The collective revolutionary breakthroughs by these three laureates have helped in laying the foundation of a wireless rechargeable world, conferring the greatest benefit to humankind.


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