Technology & Science

Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to trio for development of lithium-ion batteries

The 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino for the development of lithium-ion batteries, which have reshaped energy storage and transformed cars, mobile phones and many other devices in an increasingly portable and electronic world.

Laureates 'laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society,' Nobel committee says

The 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to John B. Goodenough, left, M. Stanley Whittingham, centre, and Akira Yoshino. (Associated Press/Reuters/Associated Press)

Three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for their contributions to the development of lithium-ion batteries, which have reshaped energy storage and transformed cars, mobile phones and many other devices in an increasingly portable and electronic world.

The prize went to:

  • John B. Goodenough of the University of Texas.
  • M. Stanley Whittingham of the State University of New York at Binghamton.
  • Akira Yoshino of Asahi Kasei Corporation and Meijo University in Japan.

Goran Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said the prize was about "a rechargeable world."

In a statement, the committee said lithium-ion batteries "have revolutionized our lives" — and the laureates "laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society."

The Nobel committee said the lithium-ion battery has its roots in the oil crisis in the 1970s, when Whittingham was working to develop methods aimed at leading to fossil fuel-free energy technologies.

Goodenough, who at 97 becomes the oldest winner of a Nobel Prize, doubled the lithium battery's potential in the following decade and Yoshino eliminated pure lithium from the battery, making it much safer to use.

With the prize comes a nine-million kronor ($918,000 US) cash award, a gold medal and a diploma. The laureates receive them at an elegant ceremony on Dec. 10 — the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death in 1896 — in Stockholm and in Oslo.

Whittingham expressed hope the Nobel spotlight could give a new impetus to efforts to meet the world's ravenous — and growing — demands for energy.

"I am overcome with gratitude at receiving this award, and I honestly have so many people to thank, I don't know where to begin," he said in a statement issued by his university. "It is my hope that this recognition will help to shine a much-needed light on the nation's energy future."

Goodenough, who is considered an intellectual giant of 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 prize for physics last year. Goodenough still works every day.

"That's the nice thing — they don't make you retire at a certain age in Texas. They allow you to keep working," he told reporters in London. "So I've had an extra 33 years to keep working in Texas."

At a news conference in Tokyo, Yoshino said he thought there might be a long wait before the Nobel committee turned to his specialty — but he was wrong. He broke the news to his wife, who was just as surprised as he was.

"I only spoke to her briefly and said, 'I got it,' and she was so surprised that her knees almost gave way."

Canadian-born prof among 2019 laureates

In other Nobel awards this year, Canadian-born James Peebles, 84, an emeritus professor at Princeton University, on Tuesday won half of the Nobel Prize in Physics for his theoretical discoveries in cosmology, together with the Swiss team of Michel Mayor, 77, and Didier Queloz, 53, both of the University of Geneva. Mayor and Queloz were honoured for finding an exoplanet — a planet outside our solar system — that orbits a solar-type star, the Nobel committee said.

The National profiled Peebles after his win:

Manitoba-born scientist James Peebles was named a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discoveries in physical cosmology. He won the prize along with two Swiss physicists. 1:46

On Monday, two Americans and one British scientist — Doctors William G. Kaelin Jr. of Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Gregg L. Semenza of Johns Hopkins University and Peter J. Ratcliffe at the Francis Crick Institute in Britain and Oxford University — won the prize for advances in physiology or medicine. They were cited for their discoveries of "how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability."

Thursday will see two literature laureates honoured, while the coveted Nobel Peace Prize is Friday and the economics award on Monday.

The 2018 literature prize was suspended after a scandal rocked the Swedish Academy. The body plans to award it this year, along with announcing the 2019 laureate.

Prize founder Alfred Nobel — a Swedish industrialist and the inventor of dynamite — decided the physics, chemistry, medicine and literature prizes should be awarded in Stockholm, and the peace prize in Oslo. His exact reasons for having an institution in Norway handing out the peace prize is unclear, but during his lifetime Sweden and Norway were joined in a union, which was dissolved in 1905.

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