The 2019 Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded to three scientists for the development of lithium-ion batteries – a technology that has paved the way for portable electronics, smartphones and a fossil free society.
John B Goodenough of the US – the oldest person ever Nobel laureate at 97 – the UK’s M Stanley Whittingham and Japan’s Akira Yoshino shared the prestigious award for their work and the SKN 9-million (€833,000) prize money.
The jury said: “This lightweight, rechargeable and powerful battery is now used in everything from mobile phones to laptops and electric vehicles… (and) can also store significant amounts of energy from solar and wind power, making possible a fossil fuel-free society.”
“Lithium batteries have revolutionised our lives since they first entered the market in 1991,” and were “of the greatest benefit to humankind.”
In the 1970s, whilst searching for an alternative power source during the oil crisis, Whittingham found a way to harness the energy potential in lithium. He built a battery made partly of lithium – a metal so light that it floats on water – utilising the element’s tendency to shed electrons, thus transferring energy. Unfortunately, the battery was not stable enough to be used.
Building on the prototype that Whittingham created, Goodenough substituted a different metal compound which doubled the potential energy of the battery to four volts, thus paving the way for more powerful, durable batteries in the future.
In 1985, Yoshino used a carbon-based mineral capable of storing lithium ions, thus creating the first commercially viable lithium ion battery.
Responding to the news of his co-win, Yoshino told reporters in Tokyo: “This is such a wonderful thing, and I am very surprised,” adding that his product had not really benefited his own life because he had “long felt a bit of rejection towards mobile phones, so I have never had one until recently”.
The three men will officially receive the prize from Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on 10 December.
11 October 2019