Nobel prize in chemistry – reactions from our community
The 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to John B Goodenough, M Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino, for their pioneering work in developing lithium-ion batteries.
All three have provided essential contributions to this field, starting with Stanley Whittingham, who devised the first functional lithium battery in the 1970s.
Professor Goodenough built on this work whilst at the University of Oxford, replacing the titanium disulphide in Whittingham’s cathode with cobalt oxide, which doubled the battery’s voltage. Our John B Goodenough Award – most recently given to Professor Clare Grey of the University of Cambridge – is named after him.
Finally, Akira Yoshino of Meijo University used Goodenough’s cathode to develop the first commercially-viable lithium-ion battery in 1985.
Read our collection of research articles from the winners of the 2019 Nobel prize in Chemistry (all these papers are free to access until the end of November 2019).
Nobel Prize article collection
Professor Dame Carol Robinson, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said:
"Firstly, congratulations to all of the recipients of this year’s prize. Their pioneering research is everywhere you look and a great example of how chemistry has paved the way for everything from the mobile phone in your pocket to the electric vehicles and home energy storage of the future.
"It’s not the end of the journey, as lithium is a finite resource and many scientists around the world are building on the foundations laid by these three brilliant chemists.
"It’s important to recognise that this research was originally fundamental – John Goodenough conducted much of his initial research when he was head of inorganic chemistry at the University of Oxford, so this is good recognition for UK science. It is now vital that governments and funders around the world continue to support the creative, discovery science that can provide a truly sustainable future for energy.
"John Goodenough is coming to the Royal Society this evening as he’s been awarded their Copley Medal, so there’s a celebration to which I’ve also been invited to receive their Royal Medal, and I’m delighted that I’ll get the chance to meet him."
Professor Saiful Islam, Professor of Materials Chemistry at the University of Bath, welcomed the news: "I'm absolutely delighted that John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino have been awarded the Chemistry Nobel Prize for the development of lithium-ion batteries. As we know, these batteries have helped power the portable revolution and now have a crucial role in electric vehicles to lowering emissions and improving air quality. In my view, this award is long overdue and it's great to see that this important area of materials chemistry has been recognised. In fact, most people probably saw this Nobel Prize news on a device powered by a lithium-ion battery."
Professor Richard Catlow, Professor of Catalytic and Computational Chemistry, at Cardiff Catalysis Institute said: "I remember well when John, then in Oxford, did his pioneering work on the lithium cobalt oxide cathode. We were all impressed by this typically imaginative and creative piece of solid state chemistry; but none of us realised that the discovery would have global impact by changing the way we live and work."
Professor Clare Grey, Geoffrey Moorhouse Gibson Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, and winner of our 2019 John B Goodenough Award, told the Royal Society of Chemistry: "I am delighted and extremely excited by today’s Nobel Prize, awarded to three seminal figures who have each made the key inventions required to build the rechargeable lithium ion battery.
“Their work, underpinned by their deep understanding of solid state chemistry and electrochemistry, has transformed our world, the lithium ion battery underpinning the portable electronics revolution, enabling increasingly widespread electrification of the automotive industry and providing batteries for back-up storage on the grid, the latter two being critical parts of world wide activities to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
“Stanley Whittingham via his invention of LiTiS2 showed us that we could remove Li reversibly out of solids multiple times, demonstrating that layered compounds with intact layered frameworks (TiS2) were stable enough to withstand the mechanical and chemical stresses associated with the removal of lithium ions - and that there were materials with high enough lithium mobility and electronic conductivity to make practical systems.
"John Goodenough – one of the true intellectual giants in solid state chemistry and physics – came up with LiCoO2, pushing up the voltage of the system to approximately 4 V (versus lithium), by moving from an oxide- to sulphide- based system. He was also responsible for so much of the thinking in the field - from how electrons move in semiconductors, to magnetic interactions between ions – which has significantly impacted fundamental solid state chemistry in this field. He first studied lithium iron phosphate and worked (with Michael Thackeray) on spinel systems.
"Akira Yoshino made the significant advances needed to put the modern lithium ion battery together. Stan’s original design involved using lithium metal anodes, which were prone to dendrite formation and short circuiting. Akira first used a conducting polymer to adsorb the carbons and then moved to the graphite anode (with its much higher energy density) and essentially used today, as a way to safely store the lithium.
"The lithium cobalt battery remains as the battery with the highest practical energy density found to date and is still in our phones and laptops. It’s important for the world to recognise that this battery operates by pulling lithium out of, and inserting lithium back into materials that operate outside their stability windows when the battery is charged. And yet the field has been able to get this to work – and to get it to work for many, many cycles often for many, many years. It is a considerable feat – that was enabled by the pioneering work of these three people – and has inspired a community of researchers, chemists, materials scientists, physicist and engineers world, wide, to keep on working to improve it."
Molly Stevens, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry Materials Chemistry Division said: "I am delighted to see the ground-breaking contributions of John B Goodenough, M Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino recognised by the Nobel Committee. Materials chemistry underpins advances in technology that impact on many areas of our daily lives, and the lithium battery is a fantastic example of this. So many of today’s technologies, from our portable electronic devices to the electric vehicles on our roads, would not be possible without the fundamental chemistry advances made by these three scientists, and it’s wonderful to see this work being recognised and celebrated."
Jennifer L.M. Rupp, Associate Professor, Department of Materials Science & Engineering, MIT, said:
"I am thrilled that John Goodenough, Stanley Wittingham, and Akira Yoshino are the recipients of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In a world where climate change is no longer debatable, the development of efficient storage of chemical energy sourced from renewables is critical and time-sensitive. Goodenough, Wittingham, and Yoshino were the explorers who sailed the ship to uncover these new frontiers of battery chemistry.
"Their vision and pioneering efforts towards identifying, optimizing and applying new functional materials required for the new rechargeable and high energy density batteries led to the demonstrated global impact that the lithium battery has had on our daily lives. In my personal view this award is long overdue and I am extremely pleased that the 2019, the award of the Chemistry Nobel Prize to these individuals has highlighted this important area of electrochemistry. They set the sails for our society, but the journey they started is not finished. Their pioneering work motivates generations of researchers and engineers to join the voyage and design the next generation of batteries for electric vehicles and portable electronics for our society’s future."
Professor Andrew B Holmes, Melbourne Laureate Professor Emeritus, University of Melbourne, explains that the lithium-ion battery enabled him to follow much of this week's Nobel Prize activity:
"I have just been attending the 2019 Science & Technology in Society (STS) Forum in Kyoto with the theme Lights and Shadows. The theme of sustainability ran through the whole meeting and the invention of the lithium ion battery was mentioned frequently as one of the major potential contributors to the management of the storage of electrical energy generated from renewable sources. On the coach from Kyoto to Kansai airport I watched the announcement of the award of the Physics prize on my iPhone, using the coach’s wi-fi system.
"I returned to Melbourne just in time to watch the announcement of the Chemistry prize. It was thrilling to anticipate the decision. I knew immediately that John Goodenough would be a recipient when the Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ introduced the announcement by saying 'this year’s prize is about a rechargeable world'.
"John Goodenough carried out the pioneering work of developing a lithium cobalt oxide electrode when he was at Oxford. This remarkable advance provided a battery with a staggering 4V potential.
"I was privileged to be the second recipient of the John B Goodenough Award from the RSC and I was the Newton-Abraham Visiting Professor at Oxford at the time. One of the first things I did was to photograph the RSC plaque that stands outside the Oxford Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory and I was able to use that image during my RSC lecture on receiving the award. The recipient of the 2019 award is Clare Grey, a world-leading expert in battery research.
"It is an honour to be associated with the name of John Goodenough, who has definitely lived up to Alfred Nobel’s desire that the discovery should have shown the usefulness of chemistry for society thereby having ‘conferred the greatest benefit to mankind'."
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