STOCKHOLM – If you're reading this on a cellphone or laptop computer, you might thank this year's three winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work on lithium-ion batteries.
The batteries developed by the British, American and Japanese winners are far more revolutionary than just for on-the-go computing and calling. The breakthroughs they achieved also made storing energy from renewable sources more feasible, opening up a whole new front in the fight against global warming.
“This is a highly charged story of tremendous potential,” quipped Olof Ramstrom of the Nobel committee.
The prize announced Wednesday went to John B. Goodenough, 97, an American engineering professor at the University of Texas; M. Stanley Whittingham, 77, a British-American chemistry professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton, and Akira Yoshino, 71, of chemicals company Asahi Kasei Corp. and Meijo University in Japan.
The three scientists were honored for a truly transformative technology that has permeated billions of lives across the planet.
“The heart of the phone is the rechargeable battery. The heart of the electric vehicle is the rechargeable battery. The success and failure of so many new technologies depends on the batteries,” said Alexej Jerschow, a chemist at New York University, whose research focuses on lithium-ion battery diagnostics.
Goodenough, who is considered an intellectual giant of solid state chemistry and physics, is the oldest person to ever win a Nobel Prize – edging Arthur Ashkin, who was 96 when he was awarded the Nobel for physics last year.
Goodenough still works every day and said he is grateful he was not forced to retire at age 65. “So I've had an extra 33 years to keep working,” he told reporters in London.
Whittingham expressed hope the Nobel spotlight could give new impetus to efforts to meet the world's ravenous – and growing – demands for energy.
“I am overcome with gratitude at receiving this award, and I honestly have so many people to thank, I don't know where to begin,” he said in a statement issued by his university. “It is my hope that this recognition will help to shine a much-needed light on the nation's energy future.”