Lithum Batteries Have “Revolutionized Our Lives” – and Earned Three Scientists the Nobel Prize

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This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been announced, and will be awarded on December 10, 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden.

  • Three scientists have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing lithium-ion batteries.
  • Each will receive gold medals at a ceremony in Stockholm on Dec. 10 – and share $910,000 in prize money.
  • The batteries they helped develop have made it possible to produce commercialize viable electric vehicles for the first time.

Two U.S. scientists, along with a third in Japan, will share this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry, according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. “Stanley Whittingham of the State University of New York at Binghamton came up with the idea of using lithium in batteries more than four decades ago. John B. Goodenough of the University of Texas found ways to make the chemistry more powerful. And Akira Yoshino of Meijo University in Japan found a way to make lithium-ion batteries safe enough to begin commercial production in 1985,” the Academy’s announcement stated.

Impacts small and large

Today, lithium-ion batteries can be found powering everything from handheld vacuum cleaners to mobile phones. But where they could have the most substantial impact is by weaning the automobile off those fossil fuels. Denmark last week proposed that the European Union ban the sale of gas and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040, and India, China and several other countries are studying similar strategies.

Lithium-ion batteries have their drawbacks, but charging times are rapidly dropping, durability is improving, and costs are coming down. In June, GM President Mark Reuss predicted that battery-electric cars would reach price parity with gas-powered models “sooner” than many have expected, perhaps by mid-decade.

Billions of dollars are being invested in efforts to develop event more advanced batteries, said Sam Abuelsamid, a principle analyst with Navigant Research, “but for at least the next decade (lithium-ion) will likely remain the major form of battery technology.”


Until lithium-ion batteries came to market there was no way to produce commercially viable battery-electric vehicles – or handheld smartphones and appliances, for that matter. From a mobility perspective, how much demand will grow is uncertain, but most forecasters anticipate lithium-ion technology will be used in tens of millions of hybrids and pure battery-electric vehicles over the coming decade.

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