Lithium ion battery developers win Nobel prize

October 10, 2019 //By Nick Flaherty
The developers of lithium ion battery technology have won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work over the last forty years.
The developers of lithium ion battery technology have won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work over the last fifty years.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awaded the Nobel prize to John B. Goodenough at the University of Texas at Austin, US, M. Stanley Whittingham of Binghamton University, State University of New York, US and Akira Yoshino of Asahi Kasei Corporation in Tokyo, Japan and Meijo University, Nagoya, Japan.

"The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2019 rewards the development of the lithium-ion battery. This lightweight, rechargeable and powerful battery is now used in everything from mobile phones to laptops and electric vehicles. It can also store significant amounts of energy from solar and wind power, making possible a fossil fuel-free society," said the Academy, which detailed the development.

The foundation of the lithium ion battery was laid during the oil crisis in the 1970s. Stanley Whittingham worked on developing methods that could lead to fossil fuel-free energy technologies. He started to research superconductors and discovered an extremely energy-rich material, which he used to create an innovative cathode in a lithium battery. This was made from titanium disulphide which, at a molecular level, has spaces that can house – intercalate – lithium ions.

The battery’s anode was partially made from metallic lithium with a potential just over two volts. However, metallic lithium is reactive and the battery was too explosive to be viable.

John Goodenough predicted that the cathode would have even greater potential if it was made using a metal oxide instead of a metal sulphide. After a systematic search, in 1980 he demonstrated that cobalt oxide with intercalated lithium ions can produce as much as four volts. This was an important breakthrough and would lead to much more powerful batteries.

With Goodenough’s cathode as a basis, Akira Yoshino created the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery in 1985. 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 result was a lightweight, hardwearing lithium ion battery that could be charged hundreds of times before its performance deteriorated.

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