Lithium-ion battery pioneer wins 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Professor John B Goodenough, one of the pioneers of lithium-ion battery technology, has been awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

john b goodenough
Goodenough developed the critical materials that provided the high-energy density needed to power portable electronics. Image: University of Texas at Austin

Goodenough has been awarded the prize for his work at Oxford University in the 1980s, when – along with Koichi Mizushima, Philip C Jones and Philip J Wiseman – he identified the cathode material that enabled development of the rechargeable lithium-ion battery.

He received the award jointly with Stanley Whittingham of the State University of New York at Binghamton and Akira Yoshino of Meijo University.

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Announcing the prize the Nobel Foundation said: “Through their work, they have created the right conditions for a wireless and fossil fuel-free society, and so brought the greatest benefit to humankind.”

Goodenough, who was born in 1922, identified and developed the critical materials that provided the high-energy density needed to power portable electronics, initiating the wireless revolution. Today, batteries incorporating his cathode materials are used worldwide for mobile phones, power tools, laptops, tablets and other wireless devices, as well as electric and hybrid vehicles.

In 1979, he showed that by using lithium cobalt oxide as the cathode of a lithium-ion rechargeable battery, it would be possible to achieve a high density of stored energy with an anode other than metallic lithium. This discovery led to the development of carbon-rich materials that allow for the use of stable and manageable negative electrodes in lithium-ion batteries.

Reflecting on Goodenough’s work Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, said: “[his] discovery of cathode material here enabled the development of the lithium-ion battery, introducing the mobile phone era and transforming lives worldwide.”

Professor Steve Faulkner, Head of Inorganic Chemistry at Oxford University, said: “John Goodenough and his group pioneered the development of lithium cathode materials in Oxford; without this work, the rechargeable lithium battery (and arguably the modern connected world) would not exist.”

Goodenough, now 97 years old, holds faculty positions in the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.