A Prizeworthy Battery

October 12, 2019

Any idea what the size of the battery is that’s in your phone? Tiny! It’s actually around four inches long, although the exact size depends on the type of phone you use. The best batteries are the ones that last hours, right? Twenty years ago, a four-inch battery with so much power was unheard of. You see, battery sizes have come a long, long way in the past twenty years. A couple of decades ago, a laptop battery, for example, was made of nickel-cadmium. While they could store power, they didn’t last beyond an hour and were often expensive. Today, lithium batteries are considered the best battery power used in devices like laptops and phones and even electric cars. This week, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three people who worked on making the lithium ion battery what it is today. Like most Nobel Prizes winners, these scientists have been working on this for a long time!

M. Stanley Whittingham created the first lithium battery in the 1970s, but it wasn’t exactly usable because it was considered, well, explosive. Then John B. Goodenough took the basic idea and created a more powerful battery. What did he do to make it better? He used a different material to produce a lithium battery that lasted longer. Finally, Akira Yoshino removed pure lithium from batteries, making them safer, but it wasn’t until around 1985 that the battery was commercially available. The three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for working and progressively improving battery technology. Our question is: Would Yoshino have been able to do his work without Goodenough’s efforts? Or would Goodenough have been able to make progress without Whittingham’s work? Likely not!