The 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham, Akira Yoshino by the Royal Swedish Academy for developing lithium-ion batteries.
The Nobel committee has stressed the importance of this technology which has given us the freedom to use and enjoy portable devices such as laptops, mobile phones to even electric cars and spacecraft. The lithium-ion batteries can be easily recharged by plugging them into the mains power supply.
To perfect such technology, there were many challenges. Lithium can release electrons easily, thus making it suitable to store and conduct electricity. However, since it is quite reactive, it has to be adjusted for making it functional inside a battery.
A battery comprises the cathode(positive side) and anode(negative side). Dr. Whittingham was working on energy technologies that are free from fossil fuel in the 1970s, which is when he discovered a method to make cathode for a lithium battery made from titanium disulfide. It was good however the anode was made from metallic lithium making it quite explosive to work with. Dr. Goodenough improved on this in 1980, using cobalt oxide to prepare the cathode. This increased battery voltage.
The anode in previous batteries was made from lithium metals making it not so safe to work with as it was highly reactive. Dr. Yoshino focused on this problem as he created an anode from petroleum coke where the carbon layers allowed the lithium ions to be present between them. Ions moved across batteries as electrons moved in the circuits thereby powering the devices. This whole process is reversible hence this can be repeated many times. So the battery can be charged as many times as possible before it started deteriorating. The first lithium-ion battery that was commercially viable was created by Yoshino in 1985.
Dr. Goodenough is now the oldest person to win a Nobel Prize at 97 years of age as he surpassed Dr. Arthur Ashkin who won the Nobel Prize for Physics last year. Yoshino mentioned during the announcement of the award that the prime motivation for continuing the research was simply their curiosity.
Only five women have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry out of 203 Chemistry Nobel Laureates since 1901. 89 of these recipients were awarded for carrying out work in the United States while only 60 were actually born.
Check out the Nobel Prize winners from the field of Medicine and their discovery.