John Goodenough, 97, of the United States emerged as the oldest person to be awarded a Nobel prize for Chemistry for the development of lithium-ion batteries paving way for smartphones.
Goodenough, Britain’s Stanley Whittingham, and Japan’s Akira Yoshino will share the nine million Swedish kronor (about $914,000 or 833,000 euros) prize equally, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.
“This lightweight, rechargeable and powerful battery is now used in everything from mobile phones to laptops and electric vehicles… (and) can also store significant amounts of energy from solar and wind power, making possible a fossil fuel-free society,” the jury said.
“Lithium batteries have revolutionised our lives since they first entered the market in 1991,” and were “of the greatest benefit to humankind”.
Seeking an alternative source of power during the oil crisis of the 1970s, Whittingham discovered a way to harness the potential energy in lithium, a metal so light it floats on water.
He constructed a battery partly made of lithium that utilised the element’s natural tendency to shed electrons, thereby transferring energy.
However the battery was too unstable to be used.
Goodenough built on Whittingham’s prototype, substituting a different metal compound and doubling the potential energy of the battery to four volts.
This paved the way for far more powerful and durable batteries in the future.
In 1985, Yoshino instead used a carbon-based material that stores lithium ions, finally rendering the battery commercially viable.