Stockholm (AFP)

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry honored on Wednesday an American, a British and a Japanese, inventors of the lithium-ion battery that equips smartphones and electric cars and whose demand explodes in the face of the climate emergency.

The Nobel rewards the American John Goodenough, who becomes at 97 the oldest nobelist winner in history, the British Stanley Whittingham, born in 1941, and the Japanese Akira Yoshino, 71 years.

"This type of lightweight, rechargeable and powerful battery is now used everywhere," said the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the prize.

"It can store significant amounts of solar and wind energy, paving the way for a society free of fossil fuels," she added.

In the wake of the oil crises of the 1970s, Stanley Whittingham, now a professor at Binghamton University in New York State, is looking for non-fossil energy sources. That's how he discovered a method to produce energy from lithium, a metal so light that it floats on water.

John Goodenough, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, then bets to increase the properties of innovation if the energy is produced from metal oxide instead of disulfide. In 1980, he demonstrated that the combination of cobalt oxide and lithium ions can produce up to 4 volts. From these discoveries, Akira Yoshino, 71 years old, created the first commercial battery, in 1985.

More than three decades later, the demand for lithium-ion batteries is exploding, particularly with the development of the electric vehicle market in the urgent context of global warming.

"I think climate change is a very serious challenge for humanity, and lithium-ion batteries can store electricity," said Akira Yoshino, a professor at Meijo University in Nagoya, Japan, interviewed after the announcement of its price.

- Lithium demand up -

At the beginning, only 6% of global lithium production was for batteries, but today it accounts for 35%. In addition to batteries, it is used in the manufacture of glass, ceramics, aluminum, drugs.

"Our everyday life depends on this lithium-ion battery, whether in our laptops, computers, hybrid or electric cars, all these electronic objects are based on lithium-ion technology", explained to AFP Jean-Marie Tarascon, CNRS chemist and professor at the Collège de France.

Driven by rising demand, global production has steadily increased in recent years: + 74% in 2017, then + 23% in 2018 to 85,000 tonnes of lithium, according to the annual report of the United States Geological Survey ( USGS).

In 2018, Australia was the world's largest producer of lithium (51,000 tons), followed by Chile (16,000), China (8,000) and Argentina (6,200).

- 5 award-winning women -

The 2018 chemistry prize went to American Frances Arnold and her compatriot George Smith and British Gregory Winter for their work exploiting the mechanisms of evolution to create new and better proteins in the laboratory.

Before Frances Arnold, Marie Curie (1911), her daughter Irene Joliot-Curie (1935), Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1964) and Ada Yonath (2009) were distinguished in chemistry.

When she received her award, Marie Curie became the first laureate, of all sexes and disciplines, to win two Nobel prizes, having already been awarded the Physics Prize in 1903.

Medicine opened the 2019 Nobel Prize on Monday with the coronation of two Americans William Kaelin and Gregg Semenza, as well as Briton Peter Ratcliffe, authors of discoveries on the adaptation of cells to lack of oxygen that open up promising prospects in the world. treatment of cancer and anemia.

The physics prize went on Tuesday to the Canadian-American James Peebles, who took his steps in those of Einstein to illuminate the origins of the universe, and the Swiss Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz who, first, revealed the existence of a planet outside the solar system.

Will follow the literature on Thursday that must see two winners, one for 2018, the other for 2019, after the Swedish Academy that awards it has postponed the award last year because of a scandal of sexual assault.

The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will be unveiled Friday in Oslo before the economics prize that will conclude this season Monday.

The laureates receive a check of 9 million crowns (830,000 euros), to be shared if necessary between recipients of the same prize, as well as a medal and a diploma.

© 2019 AFP