Dubai awards scientists for work on lithium-ion batteries and clean energy

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Professor Rachid Yazami and Dr Lourdes Vega received the award on Tuesday

Two leading scientists were announced winners of the Mohammed bin Rashid Medal for Scientific Excellence for work done on lithium-ion batteries and in the field of sustainability science.

Professor Rachid Yazami and Dr Lourdes Vega received the prestigious awards at the ceremony on Tuesday.

“The annual award celebrates the achievements of scientists and to understand the impact their work has had on our daily lives,” said Sarah Al Amiri, UAE’s Minister of State for Advanced Sciences.

“They address the current challenges the UAE faces with a long term impact.”

“Some researchers participate every year and we’ve seen a marked improvement in their work.”

Professor Rachid Yazami

Professor Rachid Yazami was honoured with the lifetime achievement award for inventing the graphite anode (negative pole) of lithium-ion batteries.

“The temperature of rechargeable metallic lithium battery would quickly rise to the melting point causing a violent reaction. There was no solution.”

However, while experimenting in his personal lab, he added graphite to the components of the anode, making the batteries safe to charge.

Prof Yazami, 66, was just 26 when he conducted this experiment.

His discovery led to the lithium-graphite anode that is now used in commercial lithium ion batteries, with a market share of over $80 billion.

Today, around 95 per cent of batteries produced globally use the graphite anode that Prof Yazami invented.

“In 2019, there were about 10 billion batteries produced globally and more than 95 per cent used my anode,” he said.

The scientist never filed a patent for his lithium-graphite anode invention. He, however, has over 150 patents to his name for work done in different battery technologies.

He developed a smart chip that can tell how healthy a battery is and if it’s safe to use.

If the battery in a smartphone or electric vehicle is faulty and is at risk of catching fire, this smart chip sends a warning to the user.

The chip is small enough to be embedded in almost all batteries, which tells the exact state of charge of a battery.

He describes the technology as “placing a brain in each battery, so that it can connect with the person who’s using it.

“It’s very important to know how much charge is left in your car battery if you are driving.

“Cars do tell but it is inaccurate,” he said, adding the smart chip can change that.

Prof Yazami believes safety is paramount when it comes to using batteries.

“Batteries are a fire hazard, they explode and we need to prevent this.”

“We hear people dying because of battery explosions. The temperature can go up to 1,000°C in case there is a blast.”

Prof Yazami founded The Battery Intelligence Company in Singapore, which has been promoting this technology for 10 years.

He appeals to young Arabs to pursue their dreams irrespective of the background they come from.

“I come from a modest Moroccan family but my parents gave me the best education possible.”

He completed his schooling in Morocco and moved to France at 18 to study engineering and pursue a doctorate in materials sciences.

He worked with the French National Scientific Research Centre in Paris for almost 40 years. He is a principal scientist at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Dr Lourdes Vega

Dr Lourdes Vega was honoured for her contributions in the area of clean energy and sustainability.

She is a director of research and innovation and professor of chemical engineering at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi.

“If I had to tell my mother what I do, I would say I try to improve the quality of the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink,” said the 55-year-old.

“I am working on developing clean energy and on carbon capture technology to help fight climate change by removing emissions that are already in the air.”

She is also working on technologies to make recycling carbon dioxide feasible and profitable.

The mother of three is working on several other projects like using hydrogen as a new source of energy, transforming waste to raw materials and in water desalination.

“It’s all about sustainability and clean energy that we can give to the future generations,” she said.