AsianScientist (Oct. 9, 2019) – Professor Akira Yoshino, pioneer of the modern lithium-ion battery, has won the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He shares the prize with Professor John B. Goodenough of the University of Texas, US, and Professor M. Stanley Whittingham of the State University of New York, US.
Born in 1948, Yoshino grew up in Japan’s second biggest city and industrial powerhouse, Osaka, and graduated from Kyoto University. He was employed at Asahi Chemical Industry Co. and began researching a material called polyacetylene, which has the ability to conduct electricity despite being an organic substance.
Yoshino used polyacetylene as the anode of a battery but had difficulty identifying a suitable cathode to pair it with. Then he came across Goodenough’s use of cobalt oxide cathodes in the design of rechargeable batteries and managed to create the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery in 1985.
By separating the anode and cathode with a thin, porous polyethylene-based membrane, Yoshino was able to overcome a critical safety barrier in lithium-ion batteries—when the battery overheats, the membrane melts, closing off the pores through which the lithium ions pass, thereby preventing further electrochemical reactions that would otherwise lead to an explosion.
Yoshino further improved on the performance of the lithium-ion battery by developing an aluminium foil current collector. He also designed the coil-wound structure of lithium-ion batteries to provide large electrode surface area and enable high current discharge despite the low conductivity of the organic electrolyte.
Today, lithium-ion batteries are used in a wide range of modern technologies, from mobile phones to electric cars. Yoshino’s findings, together with Goodenough’s and Whittingham’s, have ushered in a new age of energy storage and laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Asahi Kasei Corporation.
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