Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2019 awarded for development of lithium-ion batteries

[Lithium-ion battery]

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2019 to John B. Goodenough (University of Texas at Austin, USA), M. Stanley Whittingham (Binghamton University, State University of New York, USA) and Akira Yoshino (Asahi Kasei Corporation, Tokyo, Japan, and Meijo University, Nagoya, Japan) “for the development of lithium-ion batteries”.

Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionised our lives since entering the market in 1991. They are lightweight, rechargeable and powerful, and are used globally to power portable electronics - everything from mobile phones and laptops through pacemakers to electric vehicles. They can also store significant amounts of energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind power, making possible a fossil-fuel-free society.

The foundation of the lithium-ion battery was laid during the oil crisis in the 1970s. Stanley Whittingham worked on developing energy technologies that did not rely on fossil fuels. He started to research superconductors and discovered an extremely energy-rich material, titanium disulfide, which can intercalate lithium ions and which he used to create an innovative cathode in a lithium battery. The anode was partially made from metallic lithium, which has a strong drive to release electrons. The resultant device's potential was just over 2 V but the metallic lithium made the battery 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 sulfide. After a systematic search, he demonstrated in 1980 that cobalt oxide with intercalated lithium ions can produce as much as 4 V. 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 (illustrated). 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 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.

See the winners' research in IUCr journals here.

18 December 2019

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