London — The Nobel Prize for chemistry has been awarded this year to three scientists for the development of lithium-ion batteries.
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The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on Wednesday awarded the prize to John Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino for their collective work in developing the lightweight, rechargeable and powerful batteries that "laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind."
Whittingham, a professor at Binghamton University, New York, laid the foundation for the batteries in the 1970s when he worked on developing methods that could lead to fossil fuel-free energy technologies during the oil crisis.
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He created a cathode in a lithium battery made from titanium disulphide which, at a molecular level, has spaces that can house, or intercalate, lithium ions. But his battery was too explosive to be viable, as the anode was partially made from reactive metallic lithium.
Goodenough, Cockrell chair in engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, built on Whittingham's work by predicting that it would be better for the cathode to be made using a metal oxide instead of a metal sulphide. In 1980, he found that cobalt oxide with intercalated lithium ions could produce more powerful batteries.
Yoshino, who is now a honorary fellow at Asahi Kasei Corporation in Tokyo and a professor at Meijo University, Nagoya, then used Goodenough's cathode as a basis to create the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery in 1985 using petroleum coke as the anode, as it could still intercalate lithium ions.
The Swedish academy said the benefit of lithium-ion batteries was that they were based on lithium ions flowing back and forth between the anode and cathode, rather than on chemical reactions that break down the electrodes.
"Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionised our lives since they first entered the market in 1991," it said.
The laureates will share the Swedish Krone 9 million ($905,000) prize amount between them.
-- Jacqueline Holman, firstname.lastname@example.org
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