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Three awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work on lithium-ion batteries

World News | Published:

British-American professor M Stanley Whittingham is among the winners who will share the £738,000 cash award.

Three scientists, including a British-American chemistry professor, have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their contributions to the development of lithium-ion batteries.

The prize went to John B Goodenough, 97, a German-born engineering professor at the University of Texas; UK-born M Stanley Whittingham, 77, a chemistry professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton; and Japan’s Akira Yoshino, 71, of Asahi Kasei Corporation and Meijo University.

Goodenough is the oldest ever recipient of a Nobel Prize.

The three each had a set of unique breakthroughs that cumulatively laid the foundation for the development of a commercial rechargeable battery, which has reshaped energy storage and transformed cars, mobile phones and many other devices.

The Nobel committee said the lithium-ion battery has its roots in the oil crisis in the 1970s, when Dr Whittingham was working to develop methods aimed at leading to fossil fuel-free energy technologies.

Dr Whittingham said he was “overcome with gratitude”.

In a statement, he added: “The research I have been involved with for over 30 years has helped advance how we store and use energy at a foundational level, and it is my hope that this recognition will help to shine a much-needed light on the nation’s energy future.”

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Sara Snogerup Linse, of the Nobel committee for chemistry, said: “We have gained access to a technical revolution.

“The laureates developed lightweight batteries with high enough potential to be useful in many applications — truly portable electronics: mobile phones, pacemakers, but also long-distance electric cars.”

“The ability to store energy from renewable sources — the sun, the wind — opens up for sustainable energy consumption,” she added.

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Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo, Dr Yoshino said he thought there might be a long wait before the Nobel committee turned to his speciality — but his turn came sooner than he thought.

Dr Yoshino said he broke the news to his wife. “I only spoke to her briefly and said, ‘I got it,’ and she sounded she was so surprised that her knees almost gave way.”

The trio will share a nine-million kronor (£738,000) cash award, a gold medal and a diploma that are conferred on December 10 — the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896 — in Stockholm and in Oslo, Norway.

Prize founder Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist who invented dynamite, decided the physics, chemistry, medicine and literature prizes should be awarded in Stockholm, and the peace prize in Oslo.

On Tuesday, Canadian-born James Peebles won the Physics Prize for his theoretical discoveries in cosmology together with Swiss scientists Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, who were honoured for finding an exoplanet — a planet outside our solar system — that orbits a solar-type star.

Sweden Nobel Chemistry
Lithium-ion batteries have ‘revolutionised our lives’, the committee said (Naina Helen Jama/TT via AP)

They were cited for their discoveries of “how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability”.

Two literature laureates are to be announced on Thursday, because last year’s award was suspended after a scandal rocked the Swedish Academy.

The coveted Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday and the economics award on Monday.

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