UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — The names of scientists awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry became known. This is John Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino.
The prize will be awarded to them for the development of lithium-ion battery technology.
Note that lithium-ion batteries today provide energy for a variety of devices, from smartphones to electric vehicles. This is the most popular type of battery for consumer electronics. Importantly, these batteries can withstand many recharge cycles. In addition, they are relatively light in weight, because lithium is the lightest chemical element that is in solid state at room temperature.
Whittingham laid the foundations for this technology. In the 1970s, he studied superconductors in the laboratory of the oil company Exxon.
The sharp rise in oil prices in those years made raw material producers think about alternative energy sources. But the electricity received from them had to be stored somewhere. Meanwhile, there were only two types of batteries on the market: lead (which are still used in gasoline cars) and nickel-cadmium. Neither one nor the other could satisfy the new demands of industry.
Whittingham studied superconducting materials, including tantalum disulfide. In particular, the chemist investigated how intercalation occurs in the case of this compound. This phenomenon consists in the fact that molecules or ions of another substance penetrate into the interatomic spaces of one substance.
In this case, intercalation is reversible: “guests” can later be removed from the source material.
Intercalating tantalum disulfide with potassium ions, the scientist discovered that as a result an electrical voltage of about two volts was created. This led him to the idea of creating a battery based on a similar phenomenon. The plans were supported by Exxon management.
He replaced heavy tantalum with light titanium, which has similar properties. The anode of the new battery was made of lithium. The fact is that the anode must give off electrons, and lithium is a very suitable metal for this. He has only one electron on the outer electron shell, and the atom, one might say, is eager to part with him.
By the way, this also accounts for the enormous chemical activity and explosiveness of pure lithium, which brought experimenters a lot of trouble. More than once in the laboratory there were fires . To make the battery safer, aluminum was added to the lithium metal electrode. In addition, chemists changed the composition of the electrolyte (a substance that conducts an electric current between the electrodes of the battery).
In 1976, these batteries began to be produced in small volumes as batteries for Swiss watches. And in the 1980s, when oil prices plummeted, Exxon curtailed research.
Here the baton was picked up by Gudenaf. He realized that it was possible to improve the cathode of the device by replacing metal sulfide with metal oxide. His research team began to look for oxide that would give a sufficiently high voltage during intercalation with lithium ions and would not be destroyed after removal of these ions. Chemists settled on cobalt oxide. Such a battery gave a voltage of four volts, that is, almost twice as high as the development of Whittingham.
Another innovation Gudenaf became technology for the production of batteries in a discharged rather than charged state.
The scientist published the fruits of his research in 1980, but in the West they did not meet enthusiasm. But Japanese companies desperately needed lightweight, powerful, and long-lasting batteries that could power innovative electronics. Then Akira Yoshino came on the scene.
The current laureate used lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO 2 ) as the material for the cathode . It was also necessary to replace lithium metal in the anode with something, since this substance made the battery simply dangerous. The battery exploded when a heavy load fell on it. In the end, Yoshino settled on petroleum coke.
The battery generated four volts and was reasonably safe. In addition, it did not use destructive chemical reactions for the electrodes, which allowed it to be charged again and again .
In fact, Yoshino’s development, based on the inventions of Whittingham and Goodenough, was the first lithium-ion battery to go into widespread commercial use. In 1991, such batteries began to be mass-produced.
However, scientists continued to make improvements to the technology. So, Gudenaf replaced cobalt oxide with iron phosphate, which made the device more environmentally friendly.
By the way, in 2013 Yoshino was awarded the Global Energy Prize . According to the official wording, it was awarded “for the research and development of lithium-ion batteries for information and communication devices, electric and hybrid vehicles.”
To date, lithium-ion batteries still do not have competitive alternatives (including from the point of view of the commercial component), and scientists are creating very interesting solutions based on them . Nevertheless, Vesti.Nauka (nauka.vesti.ru) wrote about technologies that could replace them in the foreseeable future . Among them, for example, aluminum-ion and lithium-air batteries.
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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