STOCKHOLM (AFP) -- Three researchers won the Nobel Chemistry Prize on Wednesday for the development of lithium-ion batteries, paving the way for smartphones and a fossil fuel-free society.
John Goodenough of the United States -- at 97 the oldest person to be awarded a Nobel prize -- Britain's Stanley Whittingham, and Japan's Akira Yoshino will share the nine million Swedish kronor (about $914,000 or 833,000 euros) prize equally, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.
"This lightweight, rechargeable and powerful battery is now used in everything from mobile phones to laptops and electric vehicles... (and) can also store significant amounts of energy from solar and wind power, making possible a fossil fuel-free society," the jury said.
"Lithium batteries have revolutionized our lives since they first entered the market in 1991," and were "of the greatest benefit to humankind".
Seeking an alternative source of power during the oil crisis of the 1970s, Whittingham discovered a way to harness the potential energy in lithium, a metal so light it floats on water.
He constructed a battery partly made of lithium that utilized the element's natural tendency to shed electrons, thereby transferring energy.
However the battery was too unstable to be used.
Goodenough built on Whittingham's prototype, substituting a different metal compound and doubling the potential energy of the battery to four volts.
This paved the way for far more powerful and durable batteries in the future.
In 1985, Yoshino instead used a carbon-based material that stores lithium ions, finally rendering the battery commercially viable.
The culmination of the trio's research resulted in the most powerful, lightweight and rechargeable battery ever seen.
"This is such a wonderful thing, and I am very surprised," Yoshino told reporters in Tokyo after winning the prize.
He said he had only gotten a cell phone in recent years. "I have long felt a bit of rejection towards mobile phones, so I have never had one until recently.
"I know the lithium ion battery really benefited mobile phones", he said, adding he did "not really" feel that he had helped make a product that benefited his life.
For Yoshino, a good scientist needed two qualities. "One thing is that you have to have a flexible brain. Flexibility. The other is tenacity. You stay persistent and never give up."
Whittingham, 77, said he was "overcome with gratitude at receiving this award".