The Stockholm-based Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in chemistry to three scientists who spent decades developing the lithium-ion battery. The cash prize worth about $900,000 will be shared between the recipients; Akira Yoshino, John Goodenough, and M. Stanley Whittingham.
At 97 years, Goodenough became the oldest person to ever win a Nobel Prize, replacing 96-year-old Arthur Ashkin—the recipient for the Nobel Prize in physics last year. Nonetheless, he is still active in research, working as a professor and solid-state physicist at the University of Texas in Austin. Yoshino is an honorary fellow for the Asahi Kasei Corp. in Tokyo and a professor at the Meijo University in Nagoya, Japan, while Whittingham is a professor at Binghamton University, State University of New York. For the founder of the Nobel Prize, Alfred Nobel, chemistry was the most important science—so much so that it was named the second prize area in his will.
The three researchers’ collective efforts and series of breakthroughs in the 1970s and ‘80s led to the development of lightweight, powerful and rechargeable batteries used in nearly every modern-day smartphone, portable computer and in billions of cameras. As the smallest and lightest metal in the periodic table of elements, lithium offered advantageous properties against heavier options like lead-acid batteries. It can also store significant amounts of energy from solar and wind power, making possible a fossil fuel-free society.
Once the trio had mastered the right combination of materials, wherein electrons flowed safely and easily, the electric devices acquired its long-lasting rechargeable property. The first commercial version of this battery was sold originally by Japan’s Sony 1991. Today, the metal is mined primarily in China, South America, and Australia. It is estimated that the lithium-ion battery market will reach $77 billion by 2024, with the consumer electronics market taking up the majority of this growth.