Lithium-ion batteries and the commercialization of science – a narrative

The project is to write an autobiographical narrative about the research and development of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries from a research curiosity to practical reality. The introduction of lithium-ion technology in 1991 coincided with the onset of the consumer electronics revolution and the need for compact and light batteries to power cell phones and laptop computers. Now, twenty five years later, lithium-ion batteries have become the major power source for many other applications, including electric and hybrid electric vehicles, defense and space equipment, medical devices, stationary energy storage for back-up power in the telecommunications industry, power tools and toys; they have transformed society by accelerating the ease of communication and the pace of life in an expanding global village.

In answer to the call for electric vehicles to counter the oil embargo and crisis in the Middle East during the mid 1970s, researchers at the CSIR in South Africa initiated a twenty-year research program that led to the discovery of a novel rechargeable high temperature sodium battery, and the discovery and design of new materials for ambient-temperature lithium batteries. The latter work laid the ground for implementation and advances in lithium-ion technology that now commands a multi-billion dollar industry. The story is personal – one that is based on decision making and the consequences of those decisions on the course of a career in a highly competitive scientific and technological world – about big changes and events when life and times demanded them.

Project leader(s):
  • Michael M. Thackeray (Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division, Argonne National Laboratory, USA)

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