STOCKHOLM — Three researchers were on Wednesday awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work on the development of lithium-ion batteries used in multiple devices such as laptops and mobile phones, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.
“Through their work, this year’s Chemistry laureates have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil-fuel-free society,” the academy said.
Lithium-ion batteries are light-weight, rechargeable and powerful, and can also be used to store energy from for instance renewable sources like wind or solar power.
US-based researchers John B Goodenough and M Stanley Whittingham, and Akira Yoshino of Japan shared the prize, worth 9 million kronor ($908,000).
Sara Snogerup Linse, member of the Chemistry Prize committee, noted that the batteries are used in “phones, hearing aids, pacemakers, electric cars, cameras and consumer products, headlights.”
“The main advantage is the light weight,” she told dpa. “There is no chemical reaction taking place,” she added, noting that this reduced the wear on the battery.
The lower weight is also important for the use of these batteries in electric cars.
Yoshino — an honorary fellow at Asahi Kasei Corporation in Tokyo, and professor at Meijo University in Nagoya — said that climate change is a “very serious issue for humankind.”
In a phone call with the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences after the prize was announced, Yoshino said lithium-ion batteries are important because of their contribution to a “sustainable society.”
He later told a news conference in Japan: “I believe this prize will be a big encouragement for young researchers in various fields.”
Yoshino added that the award was unexpected and he was “first puzzled rather than delighted.”
He is credited with developing the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery.
Whittingham began his research in the early 1970s on superconducting materials while at Exxon, and developed the first working lithium battery. Goodenough and his research team continued working on it, and developed a more powerful battery.
Goodenough, born 1922 in Jena, Germany, is “the oldest Nobel laureate ever awarded” a Nobel Prize in any category since 1901, the Academy’s permanent secretary Goran K Hansson said.
Goodenough turned 97 in July, making him “a few months older” than last year’s Physics Prize laureate Arthur Ashkin, Hansson added.
Goodenough is affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin in the United States, while British-born Whittingham is professor at Binghamton University, State University of New York in the US.
In a statement issued by his university, Goodenough said he was “honoured and humbled” over being been named co-winner of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
“Live to 97 and you can do anything,” he said.
“I’m honoured and humbled to win the Nobel prize. I thank all my friends for the support and assistance throughout my life,” he added.
Hansson said the academy had not reached Goodenough prior to the announcement.
Goodenough’s university said he was travelling and was later Wednesday to accept the Copley Medal at the Royal Society in London, which is awarded for “outstanding achievements in research in any branch of science.”
Nobel prizes this year have already been awarded in the fields of medicine and physics.
The Nobel Prize for Literature announcement is due on Thursday while the Peace announcement is due on Friday; the economics award is expected next week.
With the exception of economics, the prizes were endowed by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel (1833-96), the inventor of dynamite.
The awards are presented every year on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death.
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