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Detailed 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: They invented the world’s most powerful battery

Detailed 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: They invented the world’s most powerful battery

Inventor of lifepo4 and Lithium-ion batteries
Inventor of lifepo4 and Lithium-ion batteries; Founders of lithium ion solar battery and solar power battery

Sina Technology News Beijing time on October 9 news. the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decided to award the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to John B. Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino, in recognition of their research on lithium-ion batteries and Lithium iron phosphate battery(LiFePO4). This rechargeable battery lays the foundation for wireless electronics .such as cell phones and laptops, and makes a world without fossil fuels possible. Lithium-ion batteries have been used for a wide range of applications, from powering electric vehicles to storing renewable energy.


Electricity supplies energy to our lives, and we need electricity whenever and wherever we need it. Nowadays, even if there is no power outlet nearby, we can get power very conveniently and efficiently. Our mobile approach is increasingly unfettered. With less and less reliance on wires, and can be highly mobile in a potentially healthier environment. This remarkable development is achieved by efficient energy storage equipment.

High-capacity batteries make a variety of power tools and vehicles possible. In principle, we can easily use mobile phones, cameras, laptops, power tools, etc., relying on efficient batteries to power them. With the development of modern battery technology, electric vehicles are also becoming more and more popular. We are in the era of getting rid of fossil fuel vehicles. In addition, effective energy storage is an important complement to unstable energy sources such as wind and solar. With batteries, the supply chain can be balanced over time, even in the absence of energy production.

To a large extent, lithium-ion batteries have made these developments possible. This battery revolutionized energy storage technology and contributed to the realization of the mobile revolution. Through the high potential, high energy density and high capacity of lithium-ion batteries. This type of battery has made a significant contribution to improving our lives , and will continue to play a role in the coming years. However, in general, the development of batteries is very difficult and challenging, especially for lithium batteries. Since Alessandro Volt proposed his famous “battery stack” in 1800, countless scientists and engineers have invested enormous efforts in battery development.

From the basic structure, the working principle of the battery is relatively simple. The battery consists of two electrodes, each connected to a circuit that holds the charged material. Typically, the electrodes are separated by an isolating material that prevents physical contact between the electrodes and thus avoids shorting the battery. In the discharge mode, when the battery drives current, the negative electrode (anode) undergoes an oxidation process, causing electrons to flow out of the electrode and through the circuit. A complementary reduction process occurs at the positive electrode (cathode) to obtain electrons from the circuit. The battery voltage is largely dependent on the potential difference of the electrodes and the whole process is spontaneous. For rechargeable batteries, this process can be reversed and an applied current can act on the electrodes to produce a complementary redox reaction. This process is non-spontaneous and requires energy input.

Many scientists and engineers working in academia, industry, and even independent work have contributed to the development of batteries. They also understand that developing high-efficiency batteries is a very difficult task. As a result, battery development has been relatively slow, with only a handful of effective battery configurations that have been used for many years after successful design. For example, we still rely on lead-acid batteries invented in the mid-19th century. Despite this, through a series of groundbreaking multidisciplinary scientific discoveries, including electrochemistry, organic and inorganic chemistry, materials science, etc., researchers have solved many challenges, and finally lithium-ion batteries have become a reality, fundamentally changing our world.

Inventor of Lithium-ion batteries and lifepo4
Inventor of lifepo4 and Lithium-ion batteries; Founders of lithium ion solar battery and solar power battery


An element rarely plays a central role in drama, but in the story of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, there is a clear protagonist: lithium. This is an ancient element that was produced in the first few minutes of the big bang. In 1817, when the Swedish chemists Johan August Arfwedson and Jns Jacob Berzelius purified the material from the mineral samples of the Ut Mine in the Stockholm archipelago, humans knew its existence.

Berzelius named the new element “lithos”, which means “stone” in Greek. Despite its heavy name, it is the lightest solid element. This is why we sometimes barely notice the phone.

More specifically, Swedish chemists did not actually find pure metal lithium, but discovered a lithium ion in the form of a salt. Pure lithium has caused many fire alarms, especially in the story we are about to tell; it is an unstable element that must be stored in oil so that it does not react with the air.

Lithium is a metal whose outer electron layer has only one electron, so it has a strong power to leave this electron to another atom. When this happens, a more stable positively charged lithium ion is formed.
The weakness of lithium is reactivity, but it is also its advantage. In the early 1970s, Stanley Waitingham developed the first fully functional lithium battery, and he used lithium to release the powerful driving force of its outer layer. In 1980, Gudinaf doubled the battery’s potential and created the right conditions for developing a more powerful and practical battery. In 1985, Yoshino Akira successfully removed pure lithium from the battery, but was completely based on lithium ions, because lithium ions are safer than pure lithium.

This makes lithium batteries a practical battery. Lithium-ion batteries have brought enormous benefits to humans, making it possible to store laptops, cell phones, electric cars, and solar and wind energy.

We will return to the original era of lithium-ion batteries 50 years ago.

Oil haze revives battery research

The electrodes of the original rechargeable battery contain solid substances that decompose when they chemically react with the electrolyte. This process will damage the battery. The advantage of Stanley Wettingham’s lithium battery is that lithium ions are stored in the titanium disulfide space of the cathode. When the battery is used, lithium ions will flow from the lithium of the anode to the titanium disulfide; when the battery is charged, the lithium ions will reflow.
In the mid-20th century, the number of cars using gasoline in the world increased significantly, and the exhaust emissions from cars made the harmful haze in big cities even more serious. At the same time, people are increasingly recognizing that oil is a finite resource. All this has sounded the alarm for car manufacturers and oil companies. If their business is to survive, they need to invest in electric vehicles and alternative energy sources.

Both electric vehicles and alternative energy sources require powerful batteries to store large amounts of energy. In fact, there were only two types of rechargeable batteries on the market at the time: lead-acid batteries invented in 1859 (currently used as starting batteries for fuel vehicles) and nickel-cadmium batteries invented in the first half of the 20th century.

Oil company invests in new technology

Faced with the threat of oil depletion, oil giant Exxon decided to diversify its business. In a major investment in basic research, Exxon recruited some of the most important researchers in the energy field at the time, giving them the freedom to do almost anything they wanted, as long as they didn’t involve oil.

When a battery with pure lithium as the anode is charged, it causes the formation of lithium dendrites. These lithium dendrites can short-circuit the battery, causing fire and even explosion.
Stanley Wettingham was one of the scientists who joined Exxon in 1972. He is from Stanford University and works on certain solid materials. These materials have an atomic size space that allows charged ions to adhere to them. This phenomenon is called intercalation. When ions are trapped inside the material, the properties of the material change. At Exxon, Stanley Wettingham and colleagues began researching superconducting materials, including antimony disulfide that can intercalate ions. They added ions to the antimony disulfide and studied how their conductivity would be affected.

Wittingham discovered a substance with extremely high energy density

As is often the case in science, this experiment brings an unexpected discovery. It turns out that potassium ions affect the conductivity of bismuth disulfide. When Stanley Wettingham began to study this material in detail, he observed that it had a very high energy density. That is to say, the interaction between potassium ions and antimony disulfide has an amazing energy. When Wittingham measured the voltage of this material, it was found to be several volts, which is much better than the battery at the time. Stanley Wettingham quickly realized that it was time to change direction, and he turned to a new technology that can store energy for future electric vehicles. However, helium is a relatively heavy element, and there is no need to load heavier batteries on the market. Therefore, he replaced the bismuth with titanium, which is similar in nature to bismuth but much lighter.

Lithium as a negative electrode


Gudinaf began using cobalt oxide in the cathode of lithium batteries. This almost doubles the battery’s potential to make it even stronger.
Thus, in the story of lithium-ion batteries, lithium began to occupy the most important position. As the negative electrode of Stanley Wettingham’s new battery, lithium is not a random choice. In the battery, electrons should flow from the negative electrode (anode) to the positive electrode (cathode). Therefore, the negative electrode should use a material that easily loses electrons, and among all the elements, lithium is the most desirable element for releasing electrons.

As a result of this, Stanley Wettingham has developed a rechargeable lithium battery that can operate at room temperature, which has a large potential and great potential. He went to Exxon’s headquarters in New York to discuss the project. The meeting lasted about 15 minutes and the management team quickly made the decision: they would use Stanley Waitingham’s discovery to develop a commercially viable battery, That is LiFePO4,which alwayw use as lithium solar batteries.

Battery explosion and oil price drop

Unfortunately, the team that is preparing to start producing batteries has encountered some difficulties. As the new lithium battery is repeatedly charged, a thin layer of lithium species begins to appear on the lithium electrode. When they reach the other electrode, the battery will short-circuit and cause an explosion. The fire brigade had to fire a number of times to put out the fire, and they threatened to pay for the special chemicals used to extinguish these lithium battery fires. In order to make the battery more secure, aluminum was added to the metal lithium electrode, and the electrolyte between the two electrodes was also replaced.

Stanley Wettingham announced his discovery in 1976, after which the battery began small-scale production for a Swiss watchmaker and planned to use it in solar-powered watches. The next step is to expand the battery capacity so that it can charge the car. But in the early 1980s, oil prices suddenly dropped dramatically, and Exxon needed to cut costs. The related research work was stopped and the technology invented by Weitinghan was granted to three different companies in three different regions of the world. But this does not mean the end of the research work. When Exxon gave up the work, John Goodinoff took over.

lithium solar batteries
lithium ion solar battery

Yoshino Akira developed the first commercially available lithium-ion battery. He used Gudinaf’s lithium-cobalt oxide at the cathode and used a carbon-based material called petroleum coke at the anode, which also inserted lithium ions. When the battery is functioning, it does not destroy its own chemical reaction. In contrast, lithium ions can flow back and forth between the electrodes, greatly extending battery life.

The oil crisis has made Gudinaf interested in battery technology

When he was a child, Gudinaf had obvious obstacles in reading, which is one of the reasons why he would be attracted to mathematics and eventually, after the end of World War II, began to study physics. He has worked for many years at the Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During this time, he contributed to the study of random access memory (RAM), which is still an indispensable part of our computer.

Like many people in the 1970s, Gudinaf was deeply affected by the oil crisis, and he hopes to contribute to alternative energy alternatives. However, Lincoln Laboratories is funded by the US Air Force and is not allowed to conduct such research. Therefore, when he was offered a chance to be a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oxford University in the UK, he seized the opportunity and eventually plunged into important energy research.

High voltage generated when lithium ions are combined with cobalt oxide

Gudinav knows the revolutionary new battery technology invented by Wittling, but his expertise in the internal structure of matter tells him that if the cathode of the battery is made of metal oxide instead of metal sulfide, then the potential of the cathode Will be higher. So several members of his research team were tasked with finding a suitable metal oxide that would produce a relatively high voltage under the action of lithium ions and would not cause problems when these ions were removed. .

The results of this systematic search are much higher than what Gudinaf originally envisioned. Wittingham’s battery can produce slightly more than 2 volts, but Gudinaf found that batteries using lithium cobalt oxide in the cathode would produce twice the voltage, up to 4 volts. One of the key findings is that Gudinaf realized that the battery didn’t need to be kept charged to produce, and that has been done before. Instead, they can be recharged after they are manufactured. In 1980, he announced the new, high energy density cathode material. Despite its light weight, it can also produce a powerful battery. This is a crucial step in the era of humanity entering the mobile era.

Japanese companies are eager for lightweight batteries for powering new electronic products

However, in the West, as oil prices have fallen, enthusiasm for investing in alternative energy sources and developing electric vehicles that do not use oil has begun to decline. But in Japan, the situation is completely different. Electronics companies are desperate to get a lightweight, rechargeable battery that powers their camcorders, wireless phones and computers. One of them who saw this huge demand was Yoshino Akira of Asahi Kasei Co., Ltd. of Japan. As he himself said: “It’s like the general direction of smelling the trend. You can say that my sense of smell is more sensitive.”

Yoshino Akira developed the first commercially available lithium-ion batteries

When Yoshino decided to develop a functional rechargeable battery, he chose Gudinaf’s lithium cobaltate as the cathode and tried to use various carbon-based materials as the anode. Previously researchers have shown that lithium ions can be inserted into the molecular layer of graphite, but graphite is broken down by the electrolyte of the battery. When Yoshino appeared to use petroleum coke (a by-product of the oil industry), he finally found inspiration. He charged the petroleum coke with electrons and found that lithium ions were sucked into the material. Then, when he turns on the battery, electrons and lithium ions flow to the lithium cobaltate of the cathode, and the potential of lithium cobaltate is much higher.

The battery developed by Yoshino Akira has the advantages of stable operation, light weight and large capacity, and can generate 4 volts. The biggest advantage of lithium-ion batteries is that ions can be embedded in the electrodes. Most other batteries are based on chemical reactions, and in chemical reactions, the electrodes change slowly and steadily. When a lithium ion battery is charged or discharged, ions flow between the electrodes and do not react with the surrounding environment. This means that the battery lasts longer and will degrade after hundreds of charges.

Another big advantage is that the battery does not contain pure lithium. In 1986, when Yoshino was testing the safety of the battery, he was very cautious and even placed the inspection in a room dedicated to explosives inspection. He threw a large piece of iron into the battery, but nothing happened. However, when the test was repeated using a battery containing pure lithium, the battery exploded violently. Security testing is critical to the future of this battery. As Yoshino Akira said: This moment marks the official birth of lithium batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries – indispensable in a society that does not require fossil fuels

In 1991, a large Japanese company took the lead in selling lithium-ion batteries, which triggered a revolution in the electronics industry. The size of the phone has been reduced, the computer has begun to move, and MP3 music players and tablets have gradually emerged.

After that, researchers all over the world conducted a sequential search along the periodic table to try to develop a battery with better performance, but none of the batteries can defeat the lithium-ion battery in battery capacity and voltage. However, lithium-ion batteries have also been innovated and improved in recent years. For example, Gudinaf replaced the cobalt oxide with iron phosphate to make the battery more environmentally friendly,like LiFePO4.

Like almost all human production activities, the production of lithium-ion batteries also has an impact on the environment, but it also brings great benefits to the environment. With lithium-ion batteries(Lithium iron phosphate battery\LiFePO4), researchers were able to invent cleaner energy technologies and electric vehicles, effectively reducing greenhouse gas and particulate emissions.

Through their research work, Gudinav, Stanley Wettingham and Yoshino Akira have created appropriate conditions for a new, wireless, fossil-free society that has greatly benefited all humanity.


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