Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to trio behind lithium-ion batteries

9 Oct 2019

Image: © Bokeh Art Photo/

For their role in powering most of the gadgets we use on a daily basis, three winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry have been revealed.

Those behind the technology that aims to decouple humanity from its reliance on fossil fuels and power the devices that are so commonplace today have been awarded one of science’s most prestigious awards, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

In an announcement this morning (9 October), the Nobel Prize judges announced the winners as John B Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino for their role in the development of lithium-ion batteries. The three will now share a prize fund of just under €825,000 (9m Swedish krona).

The groundwork for lithium-ion batteries was laid down during the height of the oil crisis in the 1970s, with Whittingham looking to develop energy technologies that weren’t reliant on fossil fuels. His work began with superconductors, eventually leading to the discovery of an extremely energy-rich material used to create a cathode in a lithium battery.

This material was titanium disulphide, which, at a molecular level, has spaces that can house lithium ions. The battery’s anode was partially made from metallic lithium, which resulted in a battery that had great potential but would have been too explosive to be viable.

Meanwhile, Goodenough predicted that the cathode would have even greater potential if it was made using a metal oxide instead of a metal sulphide. After searching for a candidate, in 1980 he showed cobalt oxide with lithium ions can produce up to 4V, marking another major milestone in rechargeable batteries.

Finally, Yoshino took the basis of Goodenough’s work and created the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery in 1985. However, rather than using lithium in the anode, he used a carbon material called petroleum coke that resulted in a lightweight, hardy battery that could be charged hundreds of times without performance loss.

Göran K Hansson, secretary general of The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences who announced the award win, noted that, at the age of 97, Goodenough is the oldest-ever recipient of a Nobel Prize.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic