Electrifying is most appropriate to describe the emotion of being among the creators of renewable and energy storage systems that we all know and depend upon now. At the VinFuture Prize Awards held at the Hanoi Opera House on December 20, the brilliant minds of professors Martin Green, Stanley Whittingham, Rachid Yazami, and Akira Yoshino with their individual and collective achievements were recognized as pioneers of the clean energy revolution. As grand prize winners, the four scientists were awarded $3 million each for their discoveries and inventions that revolutionized solar and energy storage technologies. Then there is Susan Solomon, who stood tall as the recipient of the Special Prize for Female Innovators for her groundbreaking work on environmental protection — she was the “young girl who spotted the hole in the ozone layer.” Solomon led the team that proved the gaping wound in the ozone layer using chemistry, confirming the link between the use of chlorofluorocarbons and ozone depletion. Her findings moved policymakers to create and sign the historic Montreal Protocol, still the most successful environmental agreement ever forged. CleanTechnica attended the awards ceremony and post-awards sit-down session called “Dialogue with the VinFuture Winners” on December 21 at the VinUniversity — the education institution of the VinGroup conglomerate’s ecosystem. Lithium-ion proponents: The first lithium-ion battery created and developed by Whittingham, Yazami, Yoshino, and the late Prof. John Goodenough unleashed an energy revolution. During the press briefings following the dialogue, the four professors shared stories about the development of the lithium-ion (Li-Ion) battery. “We were looking simply for a way to better store energy. We knew that rechargeable battery energy storage using lithium-ion was the best solution because of its inherent capacity to store and discharge energy,” Prof. Yoshino told journalists at the VinPrize “Dialouge with the VinPrize Winners” press conference. Professor Stanley Whittingham’s concept of lithium intercalation using titanium disulfide and lithium metal became the theoretical basis for further research for lithium-ion batteries. The first batteries were able to do what they were designed to do, take in a charge quickly, and keep the charge reliable and available. But the first prototypes were also unsafe. This was followed by Dr. Yazami’s introduction of graphite, as the negative electrode was a crucial step towards a safer and more practical battery design. Replacing lithium metal with carbon significantly improved stability and reduced safety concerns. Yoshino’s focus on commercial viability was essential in bringing the technology to the real world. His choice of lithium cobalt oxide as the cathode and implementation of safety features like the heat-sensitive membrane paved the way for the first commercially successful lithium-ion battery in 1986 and was commercially produced by Sony in 1991. For their efforts, the trio of scientists and a fourth member of the team, the late Prof. John Goodenough, were awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their contributions to the development of lithium-ion batteries.
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