Nobel Prize winners pioneered lithium-ion batteries

Nobel Prize for chemistry winner John Goodenough
John Goodenough, one of three scientists receiving the Nobel Prize in chemistry for pioneering the lithium-ion battery crucial in today's electronics. (Associated Press)

Lithium-ion battery technology is the focus of intensive research and development efforts, and this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry went to three scientists for their pioneering work on lithium-ion over the past 40 years.

According to an Associated Press story, the Nobel chemistry prize was awarded Wednesday to John B. Goodenough, 97, a German-born American engineering professor at the University of Texas; M. Stanley Whittingham, 77, a British-American chemistry professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton; and Akira Yoshino, 71, of chemicals company Asahi Kasei Corp. and Meijo University in Japan. The three scientists were honored for their cumulative work in making rechargeable lithium-ion batteries practical as the industry seeks more efficient battery chemistries.

“This is a highly-charged story of tremendous potential,” Olof Ramstrom of the Nobel committee for chemistry, was quoted as saying in the story.

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Goodenough, considered a pioneer in solid state chemistry and physics, is the oldest person to ever win a Nobel Prize— edging Arthur Ashkin, who was 96 when he was awarded the Nobel for physics last year, according to the AP story.

“That’s the nice thing — they don’t make you retire at a certain age in Texas. They allow you to keep working,” Goodenough was quoted as telling reporters in London. “So I’ve had an extra 33 years to keep working in Texas.”

Whittingham, one of the other winners, was hopeful the Nobel prize could call attention to the need to develop new sources of energy to meet growing demand.  

“It is my hope that this recognition will help to shine a much-needed light on the nation’s energy future,” Whittingham said in a statement issued by his university.

Whittingham developed a lithium battery in the 1970s that could generate 2 V, which Goodenough doubled to 4 V by 1980 by using cobalt oxide in the cathode.

Because this chemistry was considered too explosive for general commercial use, the third Nobel prize winning scientist, Yoshino, substituted petroleum coke, a carbon material, in the battery’s anode. This step paved the way for the first rechargeable lithium-ion commercial batteries to enter the market in 1991, the story said.

The trio will reportedly share a 9-million kronor ($918,000) cash award.

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