Paul van Gerven
10 October 2019

For their work in developing lithium-ion batteries, the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to John Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino. “Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionized our lives since they first entered the market in 1991. They’ve laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil-fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

Whittingham laid the foundation for the lithium-ion battery during the oil crisis in the 1970s. While researching superconductors, he created a material, titanium disulfide, that can ‘absorb’ (intercalate) lithium ions. Britain-born Whittingham used that material to make the first primitive Li-ion battery.

Lithium ion battery
The lithium-ion battery as we know it today.

While the battery literally produced great potential, over two volts, Goodenough realized an oxide would work even better as a cathode than a sulfide. After an extensive search, the researcher born in Germany demonstrated that cobalt oxide produces as much as four volts.

Finally, Japanese Yoshino worked on making a commercially viable version. Whittingham and Goodenough employed anodes partially made from lithium metal, which is so reactive that the batteries are too hazardous to use. Yoshino replaced lithium with petroleum coke, delivering a lightweight, durable and relatively safe battery.


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