97-year-old wins Nobel Prize for Chemistry along with two others for Lithium-ion batteries

The 2019 Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded to John B Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino for developing lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are today used in everyday items from mobile phones to remote controls and even electric vehicles.

At 97, John B Goodenough has become the oldest person to receive a Nobel Prize. He will share the USD 914,000 cash prize equally with Japanese chemist Yoshino and British chemist Whittingham.

At 97, John B Goodenough has become the oldest person to receive a Nobel Prize. Photo courtesy: www.ece.utexas.edu
At 97, John B Goodenough has become the oldest person to receive a Nobel Prize. Photo courtesy: www.ece.utexas.edu

The three scientists, with their invention, "created the right conditions for a wireless and fossil fuel-free society," the jury said. "This lightweight, rechargeable and powerful battery... can also store significant amounts of energy from solar and wind power, making possible a fossil fuel-free society.”

British chemist Stanley Whittingham has also won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Photo courtesy: Twitter/@binghamtonu
British chemist Stanley Whittingham has also won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Photo courtesy: Twitter/@binghamtonu

The development of lithium-ion batteries began in the 1970s when during the oil crisis, Whittingham began "developing methods that could lead to fossil fuel-free energy technologies," the Nobel Academy said in a statement. The British chemist developed the first functional lithium battery.

However, the metallic lithium that made up the battery's anode was too reactive to be viable.

Also read: Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Canadian-American cosmologist and two Swiss scientists

In the 1980s materials scientist Goodenough made a major breakthrough when he doubled the battery's potential. "After a systematic search, in 1980 he demonstrated that cobalt oxide with intercalated lithium ions can produce as much as four volts," the Academy said in a statement.

Also read: Nobel Prize for Medicine awarded to three US, UK researchers

In the final stage, Yoshino created the first commercially viable batteries in 1985 when "rather than using reactive lithium in the anode, he used petroleum coke, a carbon material that, like the cathode's cobalt oxide, can intercalate lithium ions," the academy said. He replaced pure lithium with lithium ions, which are safer and made the batteries workable.

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