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Nobel-winning Lithium-ion Batteries Powering Space

16 Oct 2019, 13:08 UTC
Nobel-winning Lithium-ion Batteries Powering Space
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ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet put his battery-powered spacesuit to the ultimate test on Earth at NASA’s Johnson Space Center: all the air was pumped out from the Space Station Airlock Test Article to create a vacuum like he would encounter in outer space. (Credit: NASA–Bill Stafford)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA’s space power experts congratulate the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry, for their invention of lithium-ion batteries. These energy-dense, long-lasting and rechargeable batteries have revolutionised the modern world, found in everything from smartphones to laptops to cars. They have had the same revolutionary effect in space.

Necessity is the mother of invention: as the Nobel Prize committee notes, lithium-ion battery development began in the 1970s, in response to the oil crisis. Because the batteries are based on lithium ions moving between anodes and cathodes, rather than chemical reactions, they can be charged hundreds of times before degrading.

Researching semiconductor materials, engineer Stanley Whittingham designed an energy-rich lithium battery, which was subsequently refined by his fellow Nobel laureates John B. Goodenough – minimising its explosion risk – then Akria Yoshino created the first commercially viable lithium-ion battery in 1991.

“In the case of space, lithium-ion batteries have ...

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