The contribution made by Goodenough, Whittingham and Yoshino, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, is the discovery, 30 years ago now, that adding a lithium electrode enormously improves the performance of rechargeable batteries without significantly increasing production costs
As a trained engineer, I cannot help thinking of the coincidence between the surname of one of the prizewinning scientists and the basic principles that engineers have to apply in their profession. Goodenough is one of the basic rules that should govern practice in my profession. Engineers always consider the maxim “The perfect is the enemy of the good”. In my personal opinion, this principle is one of the main reasons why the Nobel has been awarded to the three scientists. None of them invented the operational principle of the battery (credited to Alessandro Volta in 1799). The contribution made by Goodenough, Whittingham and Yoshino is the discovery, 30 years ago now, that adding a lithium electrode enormously improves the performance of rechargeable batteries without significantly increasing production costs.
Although this may seem to be quite a modest contribution, I regard it to be almost as important as the invention of the transistor. Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionised the concept of mobility: they have to be used if smart phones or laptops are to have enough energy to work all day. They are also responsible for the resurgence and future introduction of electric mobility. For example, electric vehicles are now being advertised that have batteries with a useful life of a million kilometres. This technology will also be used to supplement renewable energy sources which, because of their intermittent nature, need to be supplemented with efficient systems of energy storage.