Nobel prize in chemistry has been awarded to three scientists for their work in
developing lithium-ion batteries.
B Goodenough of the University of Texas at Austin, M Stanley Whittingham of
Binghamton University and Akira Yoshino of Meijo University will receive equal
shares of the 9m Swedish kronor (£74o,000) prize, which was announced by the
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on Wednesday.
97 years old, Goodenough is the oldest laureate to receive a Nobel prize in any
discipline; Whittingham is the second British-born researcher to win a science
Nobel this year.
batteries have long been tipped for the award, not least since they have proved
pivotal in the development of the high-tech world we inhabit.
have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, and are of
the greatest benefit to humankind,” the academy said.
lighter and more compact than earlier types of rechargeable battery, and able
to hold their charge for longer, they are found in everything from mobile
phones to laptops and electric cars.
[electric car] batteries no longer weigh two tonnes, but 300kg,” said Prof Sara
Snogerup Linse, a member of the Nobel committee for chemistry. “The ability to
store energy from renewable sources, the sun, the wind, opens up for
sustainable energy consumption,” she added.
asked how it felt to receive the call, Yoshino simply said: “Amazing,
in an interview with the Times earlier
this year, Goodenough said he had not appreciated the impact his work would
the time we developed the battery it was just something to do,” he said. “I
didn’t know what electrical engineers would do with the battery. I really
didn’t anticipate cellphones, camcorders and everything else.”
was already expected to be a particularly good day for Goodenough – he is due
to receive the prestigious Copley medal at the Royal Society in London in the
evening, which recognises outstanding achievements in scientific research.
who slept through the announcement of the Nobel prize, learned of his win from
a fellow scientist, Prof Maria Helena Braga of Porto University, who was also
staying over at the Royal Society for the Copley dinner.
burst into his room, exclaiming: “Wake up, wake up, you’ve won the Nobel
prize!”. She said: “I had to show him on my phone about 20 times before he
Wednesday afternoon, having digested the news, Goodenough appeared at a press
briefing and said that, while the Nobel was not something he had sought or
expected, he was “very happy”. “Life is full of surprises,” he said, joking
that at his age the prize “doesn’t make much difference”.
who still works in the lab every day, said he does not regret not having made a
fortune for a discovery that has powered the portable electronics revolution.
“I didn’t really care too much about the money,” he said. “Everything I’ve ever
done, the lawyers end up with all the money.”
added that he hoped the technology would continue to evolve to make electric
cars more feasible. “We need to find a way to emancipate ourselves from
dependence on burning fossil fuels,” he said.
Mark Miodownik, a materials expert at University College London, said it was
right that lithium-ion batteries were celebrated. “They are one of the most
influential pieces of materials science that influence the modern life of
everyone on the planet,” he said.
is remarkable too that although 30 years old, they have not been eclipsed by a
better battery technology even now, which makes you realise what a remarkable
discovery they are.”
work by turning chemical energy into electricity. A typical battery is made up
of two electrodes, an anode and a cathode, which are usually separated by a
liquid that can carry charged particles.
electrodes are connected to an electrical circuit. When the battery is powering
an electrical device, electrons travel from the anode to the cathode through
the electrical circuit, while positively charged ions move through the
electrolyte. In a rechargeable battery, energy can be put into the device to
reverse this process.
rechargeable batteries were around in the 1970s, they had drawbacks, not least
in the amount of energy they could store. Lithium, it was thought, could be an
answer since it is a very light metal and easily loses an electron. However,
lithium’s reactivity also made it tricky to harness.
the 1970s Stanley Whittingham tackled the problem when looking to develop
approaches for fossil-free energy in light of the oil crisis. His device, the
first functional lithium battery, used lithium metal in the anode and lithium
ions tucked into titanium disulphide for the cathode. Unfortunately, when this
battery was repeatedly recharged, it ran the risk of exploding. To improve
safety, Whittingham combined metallic lithium with aluminium in the anode.
picked up the baton at the University of Oxford, and replaced the titanium
disulphide in the cathode with cobalt oxide – an approach that doubled the
used the cathode developed by Goodenough to create the first commercially
viable lithium-ion battery in 1985, 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 than those using lithium metal.
upshot was a lightweight, compact battery that could be recharged many, many
times – the bedrock of modern technology. The battery continues to be
developed, not least to improve its environmental impact.
Dame Carol Robinson, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said battery
technology remained an exciting field.
not the end of the journey, as lithium is a finite resource and many scientists
around the world are building on the foundations laid by these three brilliant
chemists,” she said.
Monday, William Kaelin, Sir Peter Ratcliffe and Gregg Semenza won the
prize in physiology or medicine for their work on understanding how
cells adapt to low levels of oxygen, and on Tuesday the
physics prize was shared between James Peebles, Michel Mayor and Didier
Queloz for their work on cosmology and the discovery of the first exoplanet.
literature awards will be announced on Thursday after last year’s prize was
postponed, the peace prize winner will be announced on Friday, followed by
economics on Monday.