It is a common notion that Nobel Prizes are awarded to lesser significant inventions and discoveries. Something different occurred this year when the Nobel committee decided to award the developers and inventors of one of the most useful inventions of today’s time: the Lithium-ion battery or in everyday convention a cell.
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You can go on and on listing the devices which run on these batteries, the laptop or the phone you are reading this on, the remotes you use every day, or for the innovations in electric vehicles, drones, cameras, etc.
Figuring out how the Li-ion batteries are quite a task if you’re not associated with the field of science. Put quite simply, Li-ion batteries work due to the fact that electrons go from the diving boards into the swimming pool, i.e, from a higher potential to a lower potential.
The fact that lithium batteries can be recharged differentiates it from alkaline batteries which are use and throw types. The batteries are all made up of multiple layers, and each layer has a regenerative pattern or a type of material that can be charged back, thereby storing energy again.
The first models and prototypes of Lithium batteries were developed by John B. Goodenough of The University of Texas, M. Stanley Whittingham of the Binghamton University, State University of New York, Akira Yoshino of the Asahi Kasei Corporation, Tokyo back in the 1970s when oil prices were soaring and energy availability was a big issue.
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The first few models could only generate 2 Volts and the cost was too expensive for being used every day since he used lithium and titanium disulfide. However, the foundation was set and the fact that, if developed, this could become an amazingly economical and convenient source of energy was asserted quite well.
This foundation was further built upon by Goodenough and his calculations which let him change a few materials for a much better balance and result in the form of a double output of 4 Volts from the batteries by using cobalt oxides.
Yoshino’s contribution to this topic was that he bridged the gap science and engineering as he undertook the task of using the highly reactive lithium as an electrode in the cells and replaced it by petroleum coke. Petroleum coke is naturally layered and hence is much more stable for holding and housing lithium ions.
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Thus in the year 1991, the lithium-ion batteries finally were commercially sold, a staggering 21 years after the research into it started, and so started the era of a better battery. This also helped the environment to quite an extent since these were essentially reusable batteries and also had a lesser risk of exploding.
The overall advantages of Lithium-ion batteries are that these are made up of lightweight materials and hence are not a task to carry around, as it is evident how we carry our phones and laptops everywhere without breaking a sweat. A step towards an eco-friendly transport is also taken since electric cars run on Lithium-ion batteries instead of the pollution causing petrol.
Hence for the 25th trio of musketeers to share the Nobel Prize of Chemistry, it’s yet another tale of developing on each other potential and using them as steps to a better future. Such people are an inspiration for the generations to come and hence it was a step in the right direction by the Nobel committee to award them.