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Creators of the lithium ion battery awarded 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Creators of the lithium-ion battery awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

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.

Hydrogen Fuel Station Sign

Scientists create new material for enabling hydrogen power revolution

Researchers have discovered a material which can be useful for tapping the potential of hydrogen-driven vehicles. It is published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science. Since fossil fuels are being depleted at a high rate, scientists all over the world are searching for optimum replacements to the vehicles running on various fossil fuels. Alternatives such as battery-powered automobiles, solar vehicles are also explored.

I believe fuel cells could end the 100-year reign of the internal combustion engine.--William Clay Ford Click To Tweet

Apart from these options, another useful option is hydrogen power. But what has stopped its full utilization is the price and complexity of the hydrogen-powered fuel systems. A group of scientists led by David Antonelli, professor at Lancaster University has found a solution to this. They discovered a material which is obtained from manganese hydride. This new material is used for making molecular sieves in the tanks. These tanks have hydrogen stored inside them and they function with the help of fuel cells in the hydrogen system.

This material is named as KMH-1 (Kubas Manganese Hydride-1). It will help in making the design of the tanks much smaller, cost-effective than the current technologies in hydrogen fuel systems. The most promising fact is that it would outperform the vehicles which are battery powered in a significant way.

Antonelli who leads the Physical Chemistry Department at Lancaster University and has been involved in this field of research for 15 years commented that the price of manufacturing of this entity is less and the energy density is much greater than the regular batteries which are powered by lithium ions. It could mean that the systems using hydrogen fuel may cost approximately five times less than the lithium-ion system while providing increased lengths of the journey.

This has been possible due to a chemical process named Kubas binding. In this process, the hydrogen storage is done by increasing the distance between two atoms in a hydrogen molecule and it occurs at room temperature. Thus the necessity for splitting and binding the atomic bonds is eliminated and hence it reduces high energy requirements and the complex machinery.

This material also removes the necessity for cooling, as it absorbs any extra energy. This is a major advantage as the presence of cooling equipment in a vehicle makes it expensive and also reduces efficiency.

Hydrogen is absorbed by this material at pressures equal to 120 atmospheres which is much lesser than a scuba tank. It is then released into fuel cells when this pressure is released. Compared to current technologies, this material can store a lot more hydrogen in the same volume.

Apart from vehicles, scientists believe that this can be used in many other fields.