Inventors of lithium ion batteries awarded Nobel Prize

Ever wondered what is powering your portable electronics or what will energize the new electric vehicles?

John Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham, and Akira Yoshino changed the world with their discoveries on lithium ion batteries.

Just a few weeks ago Goodenough, Whittingham, and Yoshino were awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize in chemistry for their creation and development of the lithium-ion battery.

The Nobel Prize is awarded annually for innovation in academic, cultural and science fields including physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, peace and economic sciences. The Nobel awards were created by Swedish chemist and engineer Alfred Nobel in 1895.  An excerpt from Nobel’s will says “The interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows /—/ one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement…”. The reward for winning a Nobel Prize is international prestige, a check close to $1 million, and a hefty gold medal.

M. Stanley Whittingham

Whittingham worked on developing methods that could lead to fossil fuel-free energy technologies while he was working for Exxon in the 1970s. Whittingham 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 lithium-ion battery had great potential; however, it was too explosive to be viable at the time.

John Goodenough

Goodenough contributed to the creation of the lithium-ion battery by predicting that the cathode would have even greater potential if it was made using a metal oxide rather than a metal sulfide. In 1980, John demonstrated that cobalt oxide with intercalated lithium ions could produce as much as four volts. This was two volts greater than when research first started under M. Stanley Whittingham.

This was an important breakthrough that would lead to much more powerful batteries.

Akira Yoshino

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, Yoshino used Petroleum Coke. Much like the cathode’s cobalt oxide, petroleum coke can intercalate lithium ions.

The work of these three men resulted in a lightweight, hardworking battery which could be charged hundreds of times before its performance deteriorated.

Lithium-ion batteries are used globally for entertainment, knowledge, communication, and work. Not only do lithium-ion batteries power our portable electronics, they also have enabled the development of long-range electric cars and storage of energy from renewable resources like wind and solar power.

The advantage of lithium-ion batteries is that they are not based upon chemical reactions that break down electrodes. They are instead based upon lithium ions flowing between the anode and cathode.

Lithium-ion batteries have changed the world since they first came to market in 1991. They have laid the foundation for a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, although they also have some disadvantages. Lithium-Ion batteries are sensitive to high temperatures. Heat causes the battery to degrade faster than it normally would. Lithium-ion batteries can explode if they get too hot or are overcharged.

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