OCT 10, 2019 11:30 AM PDT

2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: an Electrifying Win for Li-ion Battery Pioneers

WRITTEN BY: Daniel Duan

John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham, and Akira Yoshino (Nobel Prize)

Light-weight and capable of storing a substantial amount of electricty, lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries have transformed many aspects of our modern life. For years the pioneers behind this influential invention have been nominated for the Nobel Prize, the highest honor in science, but they were just riders in previous rounds of the competition.

This changes in 2019.

On Wednesday, Oct 9, the Nobel committee announced that this year's Chemistry prize goes to three trailblazers — John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham, and Akira Yoshino, whose work was vital to the development of Li-ion batteries. 
 
Unlike other chemical batteries such as the commonly used lead-acid car batteries, a Li-ion battery does not rely on chemical reactions to store and release energy. Instead, it depends on the flow of the ions of lithium — the lightest metal and solid element — back and forth between its electrodes through cycles of charge-discharge. 

The three laureates shared the prize equally for their relay-style contribution and years of work with a heavy focus on innovating anode and cathode materials of the battery. 

It all started with M. Stanley Whittingham at the backdrop of the petrolium crisis in the 1970s. The British-American chemist who was working with Exxon at the time developed the first-ever rechargeable lithium battery. The first-generation device has a cathode made of titanium disulfide and an anode made of lithium and aluminum. Both electrodes were build with gaps for lithium ions to traverse, which is why they are called the intercalation electrodes.

However, this version of Li-ion battery was highly reactive and unstable, prone to overheating and fire. Thus it was not surprising that several fire/explosions happened in Whittingham's laboratory back in the time.

In 1979, Goodenough, an American veteran-turned-chemist, came along and started to test lithium cobalt oxide (LixCoO2) as a new cathode material. His modification allowed for higher density energy storage inside the battery. Later on, Sony commercialized this type of battery in many of the company's products, but Goodenough is credited for identifying the right cathode material, and creating a design that's still being used in many Li-ion batteries. 

As for the last leg, Japanese chemist Akira Yoshino made the world's first commercially successful Li-ion battery in 1985 by tweaking Goodenough's design. His chose carbon-rich (98% or above) petroleum coke as an anode material to intercalate lithium, which significantly enhances the battery's safety and practicality. The resulted energy store device was lightweight and robust, capable of withstanding hundreds of charge-discharge cycles without any drop in performance. 

It is no news that nowadays scientists and engineers around the globe are working hard to either improve or even replace Li-ion batteries. However, the original research by the three laureates have positively and significantly transformed our world. This omnipresent energy-storage technology is being used to power anything from cellphones, laptops, and automobiles, to houses and even spacecrafts. The Nobel-worthy invention is literally charging our world.

Interview about the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (Nobel Prize)

Source: Nobel Prize

About the Author
  • Graduated with a bachelor degree in Pharmaceutical Science and a master degree in neuropharmacology, Daniel is a radiopharmaceutical and radiobiology expert based in Ottawa, Canada. With years of experience in biomedical R&D, Daniel is very into writing. He is constantly fascinated by what's happening in the world of science. He hopes to capture the public's interest and promote scientific literacy with his trending news articles. The recurring topics in his Chemistry & Physics trending news section include alternative energy, material science, theoretical physics, medical imaging, and green chemistry.
You May Also Like
SEP 01, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
New Study Suggests One-third of Binary Stars Have Engulfed Their Planets
SEP 01, 2021
New Study Suggests One-third of Binary Stars Have Engulfed Their Planets
While our solar system is relatively calm and inert, some sun-like stars out there will literally eat the planets in the ...
SEP 02, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
The Future of Room-Temperature Superconductors
SEP 02, 2021
The Future of Room-Temperature Superconductors
It begins with two diamonds, a pinch of carbon, sulfur, and a whiff of hydrogen gas. The result is the world’s fir ...
OCT 21, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Over 99%: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change Confirmed, Again
OCT 21, 2021
Over 99%: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change Confirmed, Again
The scientific consensus on human-caused climate change is overwhelming. A recent study published this week in Envi ...
NOV 16, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Modeling the Separation of Liquids in Cells
NOV 16, 2021
Modeling the Separation of Liquids in Cells
Oil and water are both liquids, but they don't mix well, demonstrating a phenomenon known as liquid-liquid phase separat ...
NOV 16, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Are Disinfectant Byproducts in Tea a Cause for Concern?
NOV 16, 2021
Are Disinfectant Byproducts in Tea a Cause for Concern?
Before chlorine and other chemicals were used to treat our water, humans used to boil water to kill off bacteria and oth ...
DEC 01, 2021
Space & Astronomy
The Two Closest Supermassive Black Holes
DEC 01, 2021
The Two Closest Supermassive Black Holes
A team of international researchers have observed the center of galaxy NGC 7727 and found two supermassive black holes ( ...
Loading Comments...