Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 9 April 2020

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

Professor Rachid Yazami and Dr Lourdes Vega won the Mohammed bin Rashid Medal for Scientific Distinguishment

Rachid Yazami, a Moroccan scientist and engineer, is best known for inventing the graphite anode of lithium-ion batteries. Reem Mohammed / The National.
Rachid Yazami, a Moroccan scientist and engineer, is best known for inventing the graphite anode of lithium-ion batteries. Reem Mohammed / The National.

Two scientists won the prestigious Mohammed bin Rashid Medal for Scientific Distinguishment for work on lithium-ion batteries and in the field of sustainability science.

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

"The medal’s purpose is to highlight the achievements of scientists and to better understand the impact that they have on our daily lives," said Sarah Al Amiri, the UAE Minister of State for Advanced Sciences.

“Its impact is long term. They are addressing current challenges that the UAE is looking at. For us each year we have discovered more and more the potential of the researchers.

“If you compare the first year and this year – the third year, you see a large sort of jump in the outcomes of the researchers. Some of them we’ve seen them across their journey.”

Professor Rachid Yazami

Professor Rachid Yazami was honoured with the lifetime achievement award for inventing the graphite anode (negative electrode) 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, Prof Yazami said.

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.

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 at risk of catching fire, the smart chip sends a warning to the user.

The chip is small enough to be embedded in almost all batteries, and can tell the exact state of battery's charge.

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

Prof Rachid Yazami

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. Prof Yazami said the smart chip could change that.

He 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 of 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 appealed to young Arabs to pursue their dreams irrespective of their background.

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

Lourdes F. Vega is honoured for her contributions in the area of clean energy and sustainability. Reem Mohammed / The National
Lourdes F. Vega is honoured for her contributions in the area of clean energy and sustainability. Reem Mohammed / The National

Dr Lourdes Vega

Dr Lourdes Vega, 55, 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,” she said.

“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 carbon dioxide recycling feasible and profitable.

The mother of three is working on several other projects that include hydrogen as an source of energy, transforming waste to raw materials and water desalination.

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

Updated: February 5, 2020 06:39 PM

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