Asahi Kasei Corp. Honorary Fellow Akira Yoshino has been chosen for the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry in recognition of his achievements in the research and development of the lithium-ion battery. He will share the prize, worth around 1.16 million euros ($1.27 million), equally with John B. Goodenough of the University of Texas at Austin and M. Stanley Whittingham of Binghamton University.
Göran K. Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said when announcing the new laureates: “This year’s prize is about a rechargeable world."
"We have gained access to a technical revolution,” added Sara Snogerup Linse, a member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.
The lightweight, rechargeable and powerful battery, she explained, is now used in everything from mobile phones to laptops and electric vehicles. It can also store significant amounts of energy from solar and wind power, making possible a fossil fuel-free society. The batteries use film, typically polyethylene or polypropylene, at the center of each cell.
“It’s a highly charged story,” said Olof Ramström, another member of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, who explained more about the significance of the development of the battery at the press conference following the announcement of the winners.
The foundation of the lithium-ion battery (LIB) was laid during the oil crisis in the 1970s. Whittingham worked on developing methods that could lead to fossil fuel-free energy technologies. He started to research superconductors and discovered an extremely energy-rich material, which he used to create an innovative cathode in a lithium battery.
Goodenough predicted that the cathode would have even greater potential if it was made using a metal oxide instead of a metal sulphide. After a systematic search, in 1980 he demonstrated that cobalt oxide with intercalated lithium ions can produce as much as four volts. This was an important breakthrough and would lead to much more powerful batteries.
With Goodenough’s cathode as a basis, Yoshino created the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery in 1985. Rather than using reactive lithium in the anode, he used petroleum coke, a carbon material that, like the cathode’s cobalt oxide, can intercalate lithium ions. He also developed other technologies that were essential for the successful commercialization of the LIB, including technology for fabricating electrodes, technology for assembling batteries, and other technology that made the LIB possible as a small, lightweight rechargeable battery.
Yoshino had joined Asahi Kasei in 1972 and served as manager of product development for its ion battery group as well as president of its Lithium Ion Battery Technology and Evaluation Center.
Not only has the LIB facilitated widespread adoption of many portable electronic devices such as mobile phones, pacemakers and notebook computers, but it is also increasingly used in electric vehicles as an environmentally friendly means of transportation.
The Nobel Prize website states: “Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionized our lives since they first entered the market in 1991. They have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind.”