Chemistry Nobel Hails Work on Batteries That Changed Society


(Bloomberg) – The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to a pioneering trio of modern lithium-ion battery, which is revolutionizing everything from mobile phones to the future of the global automotive industry.

The prize was awarded to Mr. Stanley Whittingham, an American-British professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton; Akira Yoshino, of Japan, of Asahi Kasei Corp. and Meijo University; and John Goodenough, of German origin, professor at the University of Texas.

These batteries have "revolutionized our lives" since their entry into the market in 1991, announced the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in a statement released on Wednesday. "They laid the foundation for a wireless society and without fossil fuels and are of great benefit to humanity."

"This lightweight, rechargeable and powerful battery is now used in everything from mobile phones to laptops to electric vehicles," said the academy. "It can also store significant amounts of energy from solar and wind energy, making a society without fossil fuels possible."

Whittingham, 77, discovered for the first time in the 1970s, was able to transfer lithium atoms from one electrode to another at room temperature, which facilitated recharging. When the battery material – lithium – became prone to ignite, it took the work of 97-year-old Goodenough to make it a usable device. Yoshino's research on chemical stability assurance has crowned the success of the current lithium-ion battery.

The product "alters the way we do a lot of things, the way we interact and the physical environment, the way we consume energy," said Colin McKerracher, an analyst at BloombergNEF. "The amount of interaction you have is only going to go from here."

Oil crisis

Research on better energy stocks began in the early 1970s, in the context of the oil crisis. Working with Exxon Mobil Corp., Whittingham decided to test lithium in the anodes, the "minus" side of a battery. Exxon introduced its invention in watches in 1977, but the batteries continued to light when they were built larger.

After the decline in oil prices, the urgency to develop a new battery technology is blurred. The then President, Ronald Reagan, canceled his support for energy projects and, while other governments followed, work in Japan continued.

In the 1980s, Yoshino, who focused on the problem of chemical stability, succeeded in combining Goodenough's progress by using cobalt oxide in a battery cathode with a carbon anode, which allowed to increase the voltage and therefore the potential of the battery.

Yoshino's work has helped Sony Corp. launch a lithium-ion battery for small electronics in 1991 – to quickly start small recording devices and other electronic devices.

"As a researcher, you must have a flexible mind, but at the same time, a very obsessive and persistent thought, without giving up. You need both of these things, "said Yoshino, 71, at a press conference in Japan. "I must say that I feel more confused than happy."

The attempt to gather energy in an increasingly smaller and rechargeable carrier has since continued to reach more and more industries. The transport sector is about to enter a new era with batteries that are small enough and powerful enough to make electric vehicles more convenient, helping to clean city centers and reduce carbon emissions.

Annual prizes for achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, peace and literature were established in the testament of Alfred Nobel, Swedish inventor of dynamite, who died in 1896. The total amount of each of the 2019 awards is 9 million Swedish kronor ($ 906,000). .

(Updates with Yoshino's comments in the 10th paragraph.)

– With the help of Dimitra Kessenides and Reed Stevenson.

To contact the journalists on this story: Elisabeth Behrmann in Munich at ebehrmann1@bloomberg.net, Veronica Ek in Stockholm at vek@bloomberg.net

To contact the makers of this story: Kenneth Wong at kwong11@bloomberg.net, Frank Connelly, Thomas Pfeiffer

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