2020 Balzan Prize for Environmental Challenges: Materials Science for Renewable Energy
After completing his studies at the University of Bordeaux in 1981 with a doctorate in solid-state chemistry, Jean-Marie Tarascon worked as a researcher in the United States at Bell Laboratories, and subsequently at Bellcore (Bell Communications Research), where for five years he directed a group dedicated to energy storage. He returned to France in 1994, teaching at the University of Picardy in Amiens. In 2013 he was named Professor at the Collège de France in Chemistry and Solid-State Energy.
Jean-Marie Tarascon’s brilliant and fundamental research on materials for electrodes and electrolytes applied to industrial technology led to the global availability of safer and more efficient lithium ion batteries. Reducing environmental impact through better choice of materials and synthesis methods, as well as improved battery lifespan and ease of recycling, has always been one of his principal objectives.
His most notable achievements during his time in the United States include: identifying dimethyl carbonate as an electrolyte additive which enabled the production of batteries conforming to professional standards, increasing electrode lifespan through innovative surface treatments, and developing thin and flexible lithium ion batteries whose electrodes and electrolytes are embedded in plastic materials.
In Amiens, Jean-Marie Tarascon and his colleagues demonstrated that through mechano-synthetic processes the electro-capacitive properties of carbon electrodes towards lithium can be doubled. He also developed new materials for negative electrodes, not only based on metal oxides but also on sulfides, nitrides, fluorides, and hydrides; thus, opening a new field of research and development in which nanoparticles play an important role. The development of a new method of phosphate and silicate synthesis for electrodes at 200°C instead of the 700°C required for conventional ceramic technologies made it possible to significantly reduce the energy expenditure in their production, but above all to bring to light a whole new family of fluorosulfates respecting the principles of sustainable development. Another major breakthrough was the discovery and study of an entirely new family of organic molecules to make renewable and easily-recyclable electrodes.
Jean-Marie Tarascon, with his new group at the Collège de France, was able to explain the surprising energy-accumulation capacity of certain classes of oxides, starting with the little-known role of negative ions in reduction-oxidation reactions. This discovery has opened up a vast new field of research on novel materials for energy storage and water splitting. He is also very involved in the development of sensors as well as self-repairing agents that are integrated into batteries and that help optimize their functionality and extend their lifespan, thus reducing their environmental impact.
Jean-Marie Tarascon is a truly outstanding chemist. By questioning and challenging accepted knowledge, he continues to make exceptional contributions to materials science in the field of renewable energy. In addition, over the course of his career, he has trained a large number of PhD students and researchers and has initiated important international networks devoted to electrochemistry and materials for the renewable energy storage.