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John B Goodenough of the University of Texas at Austin, M. Stanley Whittingham of SUNY Binghamton University, and Akira Yoshino of Meijo University have won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm today for the development of lithium-ion batteries.

The Nobel Prize’s website explains the reason for the honor awarded to the three scientists, with the headline, “They created a rechargeable world”:

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.

Lithium-ion batteries are used globally to power the portable electronics that we use to communicate, work, study, listen to music, and search for knowledge. Lithium-ion batteries have also enabled the development of long-range electric cars and the storage of energy from renewable sources, such as solar and wind power.

Whittingham started work in the 1970s on developing methods that could lead to fossil-fuel-free energy technologies. Explains the Guardian, “His device, the first functional lithium battery, used lithium metal in the anode and lithium ions tucked into titanium disulphide for the cathode.” But when it was repeatedly recharged, it ran the risk of exploding. “To improve safety, Whittingham combined metallic lithium with aluminum in the anode.”

Goodenough replaced the titanium disulphide in the cathode with cobalt oxide, which doubled its voltage. (He currently sits on the technical advisory board of Enevate, an EV lithium-ion battery company in Irvine, California.)

In 1985, Yoshino used Goodenough’s cathode to create the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery, with the anode in his battery composed of lithium ions and electrons housed within a carbon material called petroleum coke. This made the battery much safer. An image of Yoshino’s battery is below:

Yoshino's battery

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry explanation continues:

The result was a lightweight, hardwearing battery that could be charged hundreds of times before its performance deteriorated. The advantage of lithium-ion batteries is that they are not based upon chemical reactions that break down the electrodes, but upon lithium ions flowing back and forth between the anode and cathode.

Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionized our lives since they first entered the market in 1991. They have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind.

Professor Sara Snogerup-Linse, a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, said:

The [electric car] batteries no longer weigh two tonnes [metric tons], but 300 kg. The ability to store energy from renewable sources, the sun, the wind, opens up for sustainable energy consumption.

You can watch the entire Nobel Prize in Chemistry announcement here:

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