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… John Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino for their work on something you probably take for granted and use every day of your life – the Lithium-ion battery (by the way, John Goodenough is the oldest ever winner at 97). It is great to see these chemists work recognised as their batteries have transformed the modern world.

The lithium-ion batteries are used in many rechargeable items, from your mobile phones to electric cars. As technology improves and as our dependence on fossil fuels lessons, I am sure that we will see further big developments in this field.

The batteries are found in the solid-state. The transfer of ions occurs through a polymer gel whilst the electrons move through the electrodes. A typical lithium-ion cell is made from lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2) or lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) at the cathode (positive electrode) and a graphite (carbon) – lithium compound at the anode (negative electrode).

If you recall, in a cell reaction is a redox reaction but the ones you tend to look at with the IB are wet cells. Lithium-ion batteries are different as they are dry cells. The advantage of these cells (as well as being dry) is that the polymer (ie, the cell) can be shaped into that of the object it is being used in. This is especially handing in electric cards where the battery is essentially, the car body.

The reactions are as follow: Oxidation takes place at the anode. The lithium in the lithium – carbon compound loses its outer electron to form the positive lithium-ion (the electron will then move through the electrode and produces the electricity. The lithium-ion moves through the electrode and reactions with the lithium complex, reducing lithium in the process.

Once the reaction has finished (and the cell has been discharged) electrons can reverse this process, moving the lithium ions back to the graphite electrode.

The development of these cells began way back in the 1970’s – way before mobile phones were even thought of (!) This was at a time where the world was undergoing the oil crisis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1970s_energy_crisis) and the idea was to develop technology that did not rely on oil. Lithium, as you know form the activity series has a strong preference for releasing electrons making it the ideal candidate for generating electricity. Initially, the cost of lithium and the compounds it needed to be bonded to held back the development but in the 1980’s the discovery of lithium cobalt oxide (and later lithium iron phosphate) compounds changed everything. 

Our Nobel prize winners were involved at various times and in various roles during the development of the cell. 

Articles used to write this blog post:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-49962133 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium-ion_battery