The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize for Chemistry to Jena-born chemist John Bannister Goodenough for his contribution to the development of lithium-ion batteries. The 97-year-old American received the award together with Stanley Whittingham of the United Kingdom and Japanese researcher Akira Yoshino.
The Nobel Committee praised the work of the three researchers as having had an extraordinary influence on our world. Lithium-ion batteries have enabled the evolution from stationary to portable electronic devices and have advanced the transformation of mobility from fossil fuel-driven to electrically powered vehicles. The consequences of this invention for humankind as a whole are not yet foreseeable.
"I am delighted that our honorary doctor Professor John B. Goodenough, an academic member of our university, has been given the highest accolade a scientist can achieve. He was honoured not only for his research achievements as a chemist, but also for the respectful use of natural resources that he made possible. That impresses me," says Prof. Walter Rosenthal, President of Friedrich Schiller University in Jena. In 2018, he awarded the Jena native an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Chemistry and Earth Sciences at the University of Jena.
Contact with Goodenough came about through the Jena battery researcher Ulrich S. Schubert. He had suggested to the Faculty Council of the Faculty of Chemistry and Earth Sciences and later to the Senate of Friedrich Schiller University that Prof. Goodenough be awarded an honorary doctorate. Schubert and Goodenough are still in regular contact today. "Despite his 97 years, Goodenough is still in the laboratory every day. He only works from home on Sundays," says Prof. Schubert, Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Chemistry Jena (CEEC Jena) at Friedrich Schiller University. "He is a scientist to the core and research is his elixir of life," says Schubert, who was inspired by Goodenough's battery research and describes him as a source of ideas for his own work.
Together with his team, Schubert is doing research on the next generation of batteries: polymer-based batteries that are supposed to be even more environmentally friendly. "For us at CEEC Jena, the attention that battery research is now receiving is an incentive to work with the greatest intensity to develop even more sustainable batteries," explains the 50-year-old. This is also the position of the Nobel Committee. The work from the 1970s and 80s that has now been honoured was only the beginning. Today the focus lies on the development and use of more sustainable technologies, such as the polymer-based batteries being worked on in Jena. Organic polymers can be processed at relatively low temperatures, which reduces costs, and they also produce less carbon dioxide.
Picture: John Bannister Goodenough (m.) was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Jena in 2018 by President Prof. Walter Rosenthal (l.) and Prof. Alexander Brenning (r.), Dean of the Faculty of Chemistry and Earth Sciences.