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Harnessing lithium’s explosive chemistry for better batteries

Paul van Gerven
Leestijd: 3 minuten

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to the fathers of the lithium-ion battery. Together, they found a way to channel lithium’s explosive nature into something useful.

Lithium’s reactivity is a double-edged sword as far as making batteries is concerned. The ease with which the metal gives up its electrons is, on the one hand, a godsend, as that process (and its reverse) is exactly what belies any conventional battery. The downside is that metallic lithium isn’t very picky about where its electrons go. Compounds such as water and oxygen will do just fine, and they take them eagerly – explosively eagerly, in fact.

While the potential of lithium for making batteries was recognized very early, it wasn’t until the 1960s that researchers dared dream about taming the element’s hotheadedness. This is exactly what this year’s winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry did. Many researchers contributed to the creation of the lithium-ion battery as we know it today, but according to the Nobel Committee, John Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino provided the crucial pieces of the puzzle.

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