back to article That lithium-ion battery in your phone or car? It has just won three chemists the Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to three pioneers in the field of lithium ion batteries, which form the power storage unit of most modern technology. At 97-years-old, John Goodenough, an engineering professor at The University of Texas, is the oldest person to win the Nobel Prize yet. Goodenough is joined by M. …

  1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Not nominative determinism then...

    ...since good enough is not enough in engineering. That's reserved for geology :-)

  2. DougS Silver badge

    Goodenough is still working

    He's working on a new version of the battery that's lighter, bendable, and can be punctured without any risk - and it continues working just fine. He's got it working in the lab, I think manufacturability was the next step. This was a couple years ago, so hopefully it is further along and we might see them in phones & laptops around not long after his 100th birthday!

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Goodenough is still working

      Getting rid of the puncture risk and the fire hazard is a great step. To truly make Li-ion special, it would need to be made from ethically and sustainable sourced raw materials that can be recycled or disposed of without affecting the environment.

      1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

        Re: Goodenough is still working

        Just one tiny problem with your otherwise well thought out idea; the laws of chemistry.

      2. JDX Gold badge

        Re: Goodenough is still working

        They can already be recycled though apparently not the Lithium right now (or at least, people don't bother because it's cheaper to mine more).

        So the down-votes seem a trifle harsh. Though at surface level a clean, wonderful way to improve the environment, there are a lot of negative impacts starting with the huge mining works required to fulfil a rampantly increasing demand for Lithium and other minerals.

        Those who are really keen on the environment should be clamouring that the processes we use to replace older technologies are as good as possible. Unless you want to be protesting Lithium Fracking in your garden in 2040.

        1. Fungus Bob Silver badge

          Re: Goodenough is still working

          If I'm still around in 2040, the only thing I'll be protesting is the mush they feed me in the nursing home.

      3. DougS Silver badge

        He's also replaced lithium with sodium in other designs

        And believes those batteries will be used in the future since they can be made without anything toxic and with materials so common there would be no benefit from recycling the cells.

        The only disadvantage to using sodium is a 0.3v reduction per cell which means designs would have to be changed to account for the differing voltage so that would take longer.

      4. rcxb Bronze badge

        Re: Goodenough is still working

        They only need to be cleaner / more sustainable than the next-best alternative... which is petrol and kerosene. By that measure, Li-Ion is a massive improvement.

    2. big_D Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Goodenough is still working

      Going by his name, I thought he'd now be resting on his laurels. ;-)

    3. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Goodenough is still working

      He went to work in Texas when Oxford Uni tried to force him to retire at 65. With year to go he packed up his lab and moved to Texas which doesn't have such laws. It is truly excellent that he is still both alive and working to receive this acknowledgement. It means he can bask in the adulation of his colleagues and the approbation of the university bigwigs who can market this Nobel to donors.

      That is in addition to friends and family and other loved ones. Lang may his lum reek.

  3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Combined age 245

    740,000 / 3 is a little over 245,000.

    Goodenough?

    icon - thermal runaway

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's so special about Li Ion batteries other than power density?

    Switched from one non-renewable resource to another. Unless you are re-charging off solar or a bicycle powered generator, the electricity has to come from somewhere, likely a plant using non-renewable combustible resources.

    And lets not forget you are basically carrying around an IED in your pants, close to the family jewels.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Um... Power density is kinda important for a battery.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What's so special about Li Ion batteries . . .

      . . . says the person who has forgotten all about the NiCad batteries that they replaced.

      1. simonlb Silver badge

        Re: Everything under control

        It is feasible that AC is young enough that they may never have had to use NiCad batteries in anger, so aren't aware of the limitations of those batteries. But yeah, NiCad...

        1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

          Re: Everything under control

          They are still supplied in most household wireless telephones (At least with a BT brand on).

          1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

            Re: Everything under control

            see also: planned obsolescence

          2. TeeCee Gold badge

            Re: Everything under control

            Not since Jesus was a lad. They're all NiMh[1] ones now, even BTs.

            [1] NiMh beats Li-ion for such applications as they come in the easily replaceable AAA format.

            1. Stoneshop Silver badge
              Boffin

              Re: Everything under control

              NiMh beats Li-ion for such applications as they come in the easily replaceable AAA format.

              You can get Li-ion in AA (14500) and AAA (10440) size; the bigger problem is that they're 3.7V instead of 1.2V, and need a different charge regime.

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      A lot of the nicer fluffy alternatives to nasty power generation are a bit inconsistent.

      If you had a way of say 'storing' the electricity for when it isn't sunny or windy - then you might be able to use a lot more nicer fluffy electricity

      1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

        Pumped storage? There might be some issues scaling it down to fit in a mobile phone, but I'm sure they're not unsurmountable.

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          On the other hand

          having only a small wind turbine fitted to one's phone would be more than sufficient for people in the Outer Hebrides.

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: On the other hand

            Wearable power generation. Resurrect the propeller beanie.

        2. Muscleguy Silver badge

          Pumped storage is already installed in some hydro stations here in Scotland such as the 'hole in the mountain' one at the head of Loch Awe. More are being installed or planned as retrofitted installations.

          Scotland also has far more renewable energy than England, enough to power domestic demand and more now. That is with only starting to exploit our extremely abundant tidal energy. There's an array now in the Pentland Firth generating power right now and proving both effective and wildlife friendly (the turbines are cowled).

          A look at the map of Scotland especially of the West coast will reveal manifest tidal races between islands and the mainland and other islands etc. If you have a sailing map of the area this details the speed of them. Some are so powerfuly you cannot for eg paddle a kayak against the current.

          The question will be which ones, other than at Corryvreckan, will we NOT exploit.

          Note the tides run 24/7 regardless of the weather in an entirely predictable manner. The Pentland Firth acting as a conduit betwen the Atlantic and North Sea never stops flowing.

          Well it might if Climate Change gets out of hand enough. At the end of the Permian it got so hot ocean circulation stopped and the oceans became stagnant ponds with only the top couple of metres oxygenated by wind, waves and diffusion. 90% of marin creatures (all the Trilobites!) died out as well as 30% or so of land animals ushering in the age of the Dinosaurs.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The White Fire inside the walls that the rest of you call electricity is neither nice nor fluffy!

  5. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Has Chemistry changed?

    "Negative lithium ions flow from the anode to the cathode"

    I was pretty sure that lithium ions were positive.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Has Chemistry changed?

      Author is guilty as charged

      1. Ken Shabby Bronze badge
        Holmes

        Re: Has Chemistry changed?

        Will he be sentenced to some time in a cell?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Isn't Chemistry, Physics?

    Isn't it a bit sad that Chemistry and Physics are still different sciences? That model of the atom ends with an unsatisfactory "its complicated", and Chemistry starts up with a mass of rules and tables and physical measurements turning the complexity into usable data. Apparently not so complex it cannot be modelled.

    Between the two sciences is a gap.

    One of these sciences makes batteries and the other makes extra dimensions.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Isn't Chemistry, Physics?

      Chemistry is physics. Physics claims to be the fundamental science, though mathematics also try to claim that accolade.

      1. somini
        Big Brother

        Re: Isn't Chemistry, Physics?

        Mathematics it's not a science.

        1. commonsense

          Re: Isn't Chemistry, Physics?

          Genuine question - why is this downvoted? Mathematics does not rely on testing and empirical evidence, which I thought was what was fundamentally what science is.

      2. Richard Parkin

        Re: Isn't Chemistry, Physics?

        Biology is fundamental as without biology the others wouldn’t exist ... as disciplines that is ;-) .

      3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Isn't Chemistry, Physics?

        Chemistry is physics.

        No, it isn't. More is different.

    2. TWB

      Re: Isn't Chemistry, Physics?

      Physics is particle engineering (and other fundamental stuff)

      Chemistry is atomic engineering

      Biology is molecular engineering

      And they all overlap one another - e.g. molecules feature in Chemistry and electrons feature in Biology, and physicists are predominantly biological (all the ones I've met)

      1. Julz Bronze badge

        Re: Isn't Chemistry, Physics?

        I always kind of think of chemistry as the physics of electromagnetic interactions. Probably wrong though as it seems to upset the chemists.

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Isn't Chemistry, Physics?

          I always kind of think of chemistry as the physics of electromagnetic interactions. Probably wrong though as it seems to upset the chemists.

          As a man with two degrees in chemistry, I can assure you that all chemistry is just pushing electrons about.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Isn't Chemistry, Physics?

        "Physics is particle engineering (and other fundamental stuff)

        Chemistry is atomic engineering

        Biology is molecular engineering"

        ...and you can't do engineering without maths :-p

        1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          Re: Isn't Chemistry, Physics?

          You forgot the link: https://xkcd.com/435/

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: Isn't Chemistry, Physics?

            Oh, nice, I've not seen that one before. I was hint at Sheldon Coopers attitude to geologists, ie "Geology? That's not a real science."

    3. Paul Kinsler

      Re: Chemistry and Physics are still different sciences? T

      There's plenty of research going on at the boundaries between the two, sometimes the chemistry starts turning into physics, and sometimes the physics into chemistry....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Chemistry and Physics are still different sciences? T

        ...but is it a steady state reaction or will the reaction eventually complete leaving us only one of the reactants?

        Under standard temperature and pressure of course.

      2. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: Chemistry and Physics are still different sciences? T

        And we still don't have a definition of Lie which includes the viruses* and which distinguishes it from mere Chemistry. Which is of course evidence that no hard boundary between Biology and Chemistry exists. Remember RNA can be both information store and enzyme.

        RNA strings replicating themselves in a pore in a black smoker. Are they just chemistry or are they life because they are replicating?

        BTW if you take all the proteins and the later added rna's out of the ribosome so it is just made of ancient rna strings then it still works to make protein. It's slow and buggy but buggy can be good in terms of exploring morphospace.

        So you see if you start with the chemistry of RNA you can bootstrap your way to proteins. DNA comes later as a more stable form of information store.

    4. Dr. G. Freeman

      Re: Isn't Chemistry, Physics?

      There's not a gap, sometimes we use physics stuff, sometimes use chemistry stuff. Mostly depends if the atoms are connected to each other or not. (stuff refers to equations, theories, et al.)

      I work in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, the machine itself is in the chemistry department, while I'm paid (poorly) by the physics department.

    5. Tim99 Silver badge

      Re: Isn't Chemistry, Physics?

      And Curie’s Nobel Prizes were in both Chemistry and Physics, and Rutherford’s was in Chemistry. The physics prize was given to Geim and Novoselov for their work on graphene, an allotrope of carbon...

    6. O RLY

      Re: Isn't Chemistry, Physics?

      As usual, there's a relevant XKCD

      Purity of science

  7. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Exploiting science

    It's great he was won this award, he can finally afford to retire. It's a great shame we work these barely paid scientists into their dotage just so we can enrich Youtube influencers and gamers. Whenever I see someone on a mobile phone from now on I'll tell them, "A 97 year old was forced to build that battery for you."

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Exploiting science

      Thumbs up... I was thinking something similar. As in, but of a shame that they wait until you're 97 to give you the prize, when you're going to have difficulty spending it all!

      Either way, I'm sure one of these is a part of the prize -->

    2. My-Handle

      Re: Exploiting science

      While I can't speak for the man in this specific case, I would doubt that he was "forced". My tutor at University was 82 and the uni kept trying to get him to retire. He refused, repeatedly. To him, his research was his life and being forced to give up his life's work and "retire" was a punishment.

      I'm going to hazard a guess that Professor Goodenough will carry on working on this thing until the day he dies, and he'd have it no other way.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: will carry on working on this thing until the day he dies

        A significant fraction of academics don't really retire even when they're "retired", they stay on as emeritus or visitors (assuming their institution is friendly to such things) and they keep going; albeit often with their research output slowly fading away, depending on health &etc.

      2. TeraTelnet

        Re: Exploiting science

        According to a couple of articles I read today, Professor Goodenough was indeed forced to retire by Oxford University, which has a mandatory retirement-at-65 policy; he then moved to the University of Texas, which has no such rule.

      3. MJB7 Silver badge

        Re: Exploiting science

        I think it is *just* possible that the OP was being ironic. My assumption is that if you want to get the Prof out of the lab you will need a team of wild horses. I know that Cambridge stops paying academics at the end of the (academic) year they turn 67, but they are still allowed to do research or supervise students if they want - and many do.

        1. Danny 2 Silver badge

          Re: Exploiting science

          I was just joking, albeit making a serious point about how many younger scientists are remarkably poorly paid considering their contribution to society.

    3. davcefai

      Re: Exploiting science

      That's a bit of a leap. Do we know that he would rather have retired? I know of hale and hearty people who retired and then rapidly went downwards.

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Exploiting science

        The trick is to not do a hard cut-off at a certain age, but to ease back over a period of time, filling the 'space' with other interests until these give you too little free time to 'work'.

    4. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

      Re: Exploiting science

      Actually, it is kind of the opposite in case of Goodenough. His university (Oxford) forced him to retire over 30 years ago, so he moved to Texas so he could continue working.

  8. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    Three pints for three scientists...

    ...who have achieved more in their lives than most of us could dream. Literally billions of energy dense, non-toxic, containers to carry around energy for purposes vital through trivial.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about Rachid Yazami?

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rachid_Yazami

    He was on the four-strong team that spearheaded the Li-ion ... yet only three of them won. Anybody knows why?

    In 2014 Rachid Yazami, John Goodenough, Yoshio Nishi and Akira Yoshino were awarded the Draper Prize by The National Academy of Engineering for pioneering and leading the groundwork for today’s lithium ion battery. The prize, which was then in its 25th year, includes a $500,000 award.

    1. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge

      Re: What about Rachid Yazami?

      Nobel Prizes are never awarded to more than three people.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: What about Rachid Yazami?

        "Nobel Prizes are never awarded to more than three people."

        Yes, and that was the basic premise of the storyline of the last half dozen episodes of The Big Bang Theory, leading to Sheldon and Amy getting the Nobel Prize. I thought everyone here watched that show? It's very educational :-)

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: What about Rachid Yazami?

          Tastes will differ - my mother, who is well-educated, widely read, and quite discerning, loves BBT - but I found the couple of episodes I've seen of that show agonizingly unwatchable. This is one of those cases where I'm largely in agreement (and not just amused by) the relevant episode of Pitch Meeting.

          Of course it's possible to enjoy a show with horrible characters; I often laughed at Friends, even though the protagonists were all dreadful, selfish, privileged narcissists.1 But BBT didn't work for me.

          1And even though it was distinctly inferior to its closest ancestor, Coupling). The original, obviously. The short-lived US remake was an utter failure.

      2. Kernel Silver badge

        Re: What about Rachid Yazami?

        "Nobel Prizes are never awarded to more than three people."

        Not entirely correct - in 1989 the Nobel Peace Prize was collectively awarded to the UN Peacekeeping Forces that served in Korea back in the 1950s.

  10. JDX Gold badge

    Why now?

    We often see awards given years or decades after the work involved - in Physics often because it is waiting on someone to figure out how to do the experiment to prove the theory for instance.

    But these have been in mass production for a long time now so why is 2019 the year they get the nod? Is it just political alignment with the Crusties?!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No mention of the fact that he was working at Oxford University when he did this work, and that Whittingham was an Oxford graduate (having done both his undergraduate degree and post graduate degrees.

    I know jingoistic behaviour is bad, but some times in what it basically a UK based website it would be nice to get the positives.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More powerful rechargeable batteries have also made it possible to develop electric cars or store cleaner energy from solar and wind power.

    Electric cars would realistically be better off being mostly powered by a third rail or trolleybus type system on motorways and A roads to give an unlimited range on major national infrastructure, combined with a smaller battery for the first and last few miles where the cost of electrifying the road would be out of proportion to the benefits gained from the number of users using them. Full size batteries that everybody plugs in overnight is daft, since it means no demand for most of the day, followed by epicly huge demands at the same time when everybody arrives home and plugs in to charge the battery on every car in the country overnight. This is a bit of a problem and is already proving unworkable since there isin't the infrastructure for >70% of the population to get near a power point at home to charge their cars. (and that's before considering the lacking infrastructure like sufficient power generation to roll out on a large scale!)

    Storing clean energy is better done by using the power to pump water into a dam, which is then recovered by releasing the water to turn a turbine as this is vastly higher capacity in both power generated and also the length of time you can supply power for before exhausting what is stored. It also doesn't require lots of scarce materials that do lots of ecological damage mining, and dams last longer than a thousand charge/discharge cycles before requiring replacement. Battery storage has been, is and will remain the worst storage method available for the main grid.

    So what powerful rechargeable batteries have done is let mostly allow IT equipment to be developed into lighter portable bits of fashion equipment (iPhone etc) rather than mildly luggable laptops as they were with NiCad batteries.

    1. Luiz Abdala

      "Electric cars would realistically be better off being mostly powered by a third rail or trolleybus type system"

      One of the ideas on the Discovery Channel was a type of monorail that you would enter with your vehicle, and it would start recharging through it, elevating it a few feet off regular roads, and proceed to destinatioin as if it was a monorail, over regular highways.

      The obvious problem was how to "merge" into a 4-inch thick rail capable of holding the weight of a 2-ton vehicle at highway speeds, true and straight, and the infrastructure to pull it off. No semi-autonomous systems existed back then to help with the aiming. And the car had this ugly SLOT underneath it, dead center.

      That idea can always be revisited with modern solutions.

    2. matt 83

      " It also doesn't require lots of scarce materials that do lots of ecological damage mining, and dams last longer than a thousand charge/discharge"

      It does require a mountain and at least two lakes so if mountains (or at least big hills), space or water are scarce materials (which they are in a lot of places) you're out of luck.

      It also involves thousands of tons of steel, hundreds of thousands of tons of cement and probably millions of tons of concrete which requires a lot of mining and releases a lot of co2.

    3. DougS Silver badge
      FAIL

      A third rail?

      So you can only drive a few miles from the nearest "official" road? That isn't going to work well in much of the US. What happens during a power outage, everyone gets out and pushes? What happens during heavy rain when water will short circuit it? Nevermind the hazards to human and animal life from electrocution.

      This has to be the stupidest idea I've seen posted on El Reg in some time.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Chemistry is actually

    Physics, but with hairier math.

    Technically the electron resonances responsible for "interesting" effects like gold and copper colour and mercury being liquid at room temperature are actually caused by relativistic effects.

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