The winners developed lithium-ion batteries that made electric vehicles and battery storage for solar and wind power possible as climate solutions.
When the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to three scientists who developed lithium-ion batteries, it noted the importance of their research in making “a fossil fuel-free world possible,” with electric vehicles and renewable energy storage helping cut emissions that drive climate change.
The great twist in the story is that the Nobel recipient cited for making the “first functional lithium battery,” M. Stanley Whittingham, came to his discovery in the 1970s as a research scientist in the laboratories of Exxon, the corporation that later would lead the vastly successful effort to deny climate change. ExxonMobil faces a trial in New York later this month for allegedly misleading shareholders about the risks climate change poses to the company—and their investments.
Whittingham was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday along with John B. Goodenough, a professor of engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, and Akira Yoshino, a chemist at Meijo University in Nagoya, Japan.
InsideClimate News interviewed Whittingham about his pioneering work for an article about how Exxon had developed a prototype hybrid car by the late 1970s. In 1981, Exxon delivered a second prototype to its partner Toyota, a gas-electric hybrid, 16 years before the Prius came to market.
Exxon in the 1970s was a different company than the one politicians, environmentalists and the public later came to know as leading the charge to deny climate science.
The company ran its own ambitious in-house research into climate change and how it was driven by fossil fuel use. At the same time, Exxon’s leaders explored broadening the company’s mission from exclusively oil and gas to renewable energy, and it hired top scientists from academia to pursue a range of blue-sky research, including Whittingham, who was at Stanford University.
October 10, 2019
By Neela Banerjee
Originally published by