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Diamond Jubilee Lecture Series (Lecture 1)

Interview of Nobel Laureate: Prof. M. Stanley Whittingham

Professor Mike Stanley Whittingham, Distinguished Professor at Binghamton University, NY, USA, was one of the three scientists to receive the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of lithium-ion batteries that created a rechargeable world.

Born in Nottingham in UK, he did his B.A. and D.Phil. at Oxford University. Later he was a Research Fellow in the Department of Materials Science, Stanford University. After a few years, he was employed by Exxon to initiate work on alternative energy storage systems for electric vehicles. This is where he laid the foundation for a LIB by creating an innovative cathode based on layered titanium disulphide that could intercalate lithium ions by combining with lithium anode. At present, he is the Director of NorthEast centre for chemical storage and Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Binghamton University.

As part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations at IIT Delhi, Prof Stanley Whittingham delivered a talk on The Origins of the Lithium Battery and Future Challenges/Opportunities through a webnair held on September 17, 2020.

In a wide ranging interview, Prof Whittingham talks to Vanita Srivastava on a host of topics including the future market of electric vehicles.

Edited excerpts:

You are the key figure in the history of the development of lithium-ion batteries. How did you get interested in chemistry and rechargeable batteries?

I got interested in chemistry first at Stamford School in Lincolnshire, England through my chemistry and physics teachers. Then my tutor at New College got me further excited about chemistry. One’s teachers are very important for one’s future. I first got interested in batteries at Stanford University in California, following a key publication from Yao and Kummer at the Ford Motor company on beta alumina.

How did you collaborate with John Goodenough and Akira Yoshino — whose innovations led to the battery's commercialization.

The three of us worked independently of each other. I first discovered the critical intercalation reaction for energy storage at Exxon in 1972. John Goodenough read my paper and determined that lithium cobalt oxide that he was studying for its magnetic properties, might be a better cathode material. Later Akira Yoshino at Asehi who was working on polyacetylene as an electrode, built a graphitic carbon anode that could be combined with John’s LiCoO2.

When you first made your breakthrough on lithium-ion, what did you think at the time about its potential?What is the future for lithium-ion batteries?

We were very optimistic about Li-Ion batteries back in the 1970s and their use in EVs. At that time we were a bit too early for the market. So we went from an idea in 1972 to domination of battery energy storage today. Li-ion batteries will continue to dominate for at least the next 10 years.

Could you share some of the challenges of working with efficient batteries?

I look for opportunities all the time and challenges are just there to be overcome. We need to further increase their energy density to 400-500 Wh/kg, and at the same time decreasing their cost and making them even safer.

What word of advice would you give to young chemists or STEM graduates entering the workforce?

Do something that gets you excited; don’t take a job just for the money, you will be disappointed.

Is there something you look forward to working on now?What are your future plans for research?

My future research would be on even better batteries, and helping to ensure that they are used to their maximum potential to reduce global warming and create a cleaner and healthier environment/world.

How fast do you think the transition to EVs will happen?

That all depends on political will and the desire of the consumer. For example, India could legislate that all 2 and 3 wheelers must be all-electric like China has done and Vietnam is thinking of doing. London, New York or Delhi could legislate that all in-city delivery vehicles be all electric; similarly with buses.

What are the major barriers that need to be removed before EVs come into full force?

Cost and range for most people.

Is there any technology that you find most promising for long-duration storage?

Depends how long. For seasonal load shifting pumped hydro is the best choice.

How do you see India as a market for lithium ion batteries and EVs?

India is a great market – you just need the will and the incentive. India is also a great market for solar + battery, particularly where there is no grid.

Webinar on "The Origins of the Lithium Battery and Future Challenges/Opportunities"

Speaker - Prof. M. Stanley Whittingham, Nobel Laureate 2019 (Chemistry)

Schedule - 17th September 2020 at 0530 pm (IST)

Watch live at :

About the Speaker:

M. Stanley Whittingham is a SUNY distinguished professor of chemistry and materials science and engineering at SUNY Binghamton and the 2019 Chemistry Nobel Laureate. He received his BA and D Phil degrees in chemistry from Oxford University, where he is an honorary Fellow of New College. He has been active in Li-batteries since 1971 when he won the Young Author Award of the Electrochemical Society for his work on the solid electrolyte beta-alumina. In 1972, he joined Exxon’s Corporate Research Laboratory and discovered the role of intercalation in battery reactions, which resulted in the first commercial lithium rechargeable batteries that were built by Exxon Enterprises. In 1988 he returned to academia at SUNY Binghamton to initiate a program in materials chemistry. He initiated graduate program in Materials Science and Engineering. He was awarded a JSPS Fellowship in the Physics Department of the University of Tokyo in 1993. From 1993-1999 he was Vice-Provost for Research. In 2004 he received the Battery Division Research Award. He is presently Director of the NECCES EFRC based at Binghamton. In 2012 he received the Yeager Award of the International Battery Association for his lifetime contributions to battery research; in 2015 he received the Lifetime Contributions to Battery Technology award from NAATBaaT, in 2017 the Senior Research Award from Solid State Ionics, and in 2018 was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering and received the Turnbull Award from MRS. He is a Fellow of both the Electrochemical Society and the Materials Research Society. He is Vice-Chair, Board of Directors of the New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium (NYBEST).


Lithium-ion batteries have come from an idea in 1972 to dominate electrochemical energy storage today. They are now in a position to enable the large-scale introduction of renewable energy, as well as electrifying transportation, which will leave a cleaner and more sustainable environment for the next generation. There are ample scientific opportunities to further improve the performance and safety. Today’s cells attain only 25% of their theoretical value. However, as the energy density is increased, the safety tends to be compromised. Examples will include: the soft TiS2 lattice, the layered oxides, LiMO2, and Li2VOPO4, a proof of concept for a two-electron transfer. These opportunities and the technical challenges that need to be overcome will be described in order to open up a discussion.