2019’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been jointly awarded to researchers whose work electrified the field of portable electronics.
The award went to John B Goodenough (University of Texas at Austin; USA), M Stanley Whittingham (Binghamton University; NY, USA) and Akira Yoshino (Meijo University; Nagoya, Japan), for their work developing lithium-ion batteries.
These batteries are lightweight, rechargeable and are used across the globe to power portable electronics – including the laptop or mobile phone you might be reading this article on. The batteries can also store energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar power, and could play a part in sustainable energy consumption.
Whittingham provided the basis for their development, discovering the energy-rich titanium disulphide, which forms the cathode (positive terminal). He used metallic lithium to build the negative terminal, resulting in a battery capable of releasing a little over 2V. However, the unstable nature of lithium made it explosive.
Goodenough – at 97 the oldest ever laureate – helped develop the device, using cobalt oxide instead of the titanium disulphide, enabling the voltage to be doubled.
The first commercially viable battery was then created by Yoshino in 1985, who created a lithium anode housed in a carbon material, thus improving stability. In today’s world of fast advancing technology, it is telling that the technology remains relevant, 30 years on.
Presented by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and first awarded in 1901, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry has recognized 184 laureates. 2018’s Prize was awarded for the directed evolution of enzymes. Read more about last year’s winners in our roundup of the 2018 Nobel Prize awardees.