In May 2017 during the 231st ECS Meeting, we sat down with Doron Aurbach, professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, to discuss his life in science, the future of batteries, and scientific legacy. The conversation was led by Rob Gerth, ECS’s director of marketing and communications.
During the 231st ECS Meeting, Aurbach received the ECS Allen J. Bard Award in Electrochemical Science for his distinguished contributions to the field. He has published more than 540 peer-reviewed papers, which have received more than 37,000 citations. Doron serves as a technical editor for the Journal of The Electrochemical Society and is an ECS fellow. His work in fundamental battery research has received recognition world-wide.
Below is an excerpt from the conversation:
Rob Gerth: How did your career in electrochemistry begin?
Doron Aurbach: I did my postdoctoral studies with an electrochemistry group in the U.S. with Ernie Yeager. He ran, at that time, one of the best groups in electrochemistry in the world at Case Western Reserve University. I was privileged to do my postdoctoral research with him. Interestingly, I did my PhD in organic chemistry and my first degree in chemical engineering, but I fell in love with electrochemistry. It turned out that I was able to proceed with an academic career if I brought electrochemistry to Bar-Ilan University in Israel. It was a new topic for the university. They were pointing out several fields that were missing there at the time, and one was electrochemistry.
RG: What made you chose electrochemistry as a scientific discipline?
DA: I always liked chemistry. With chemistry, you’re in the heart of the science. In fact, everything here is chemistry. Whatever you touch is chemistry. We’re also chemical entities; the chemistry of life is amazing. By doing chemistry, you’re connected to all pieces of science: mathematics, physics, biological, engineering. Doing chemistry is really doing interdisciplinary science. I fell in love with chemistry when I was in college, but then I had to spend four years in the army. When I finished in the army, I still wanted to study. Eventually, I fell in love with electrochemistry. Electrochemistry is also very interdisciplinary. It’s a beautiful field because you have to touch so many other areas of science.
RG: How important has the development of the lithium-ion battery been for society?
DA: All mobile electronics are powered by lithium-ion batteries. This is one of the greatest successes of modern electrochemistry. The story looks simple, but just apparently simple. There are a lot of fine details and a lot of basic science that has to be well understood, and that is the beauty of the field. This is why the community flourishes. So many people are attracted to working on batteries because there’s a lot of science that has to be understood in order to ensure a lithium-ion battery works; to make sure your battery can store enough energy for an entire day and you can recharge the battery more times than the electronic lasts, so you can use your phone several years with the same battery. This was a great success and it’s because we struggled a lot with many details; there were a lot of fine details.
RG: What’s next for battery science and technology?
DA: Right now we are working on the frontier. After gaining prestige with mobile electronics and the success of lithium-ion battery technology, we want to go further. Now the challenge is electromobility. Electromobility is business. We have reliable batteries and we can be successful with electromobility with the current technology. We can fill cars with batteries. The most important thing is to have reliable technology with safety and durability. I convey a very optimistic message about the possibility of electrochemistry to promote electromobility. We have solutions and I think the car makers understand it. If we have a problem with global warming and we can no longer burn fossil fuels the way we’ve done in the past, we can charge our car batteries from renewables like solar and reduce pollution and gas emissions, resulting in better energy economy.
RG: What kind of work are you doing as the leader of the Israel National Research Center for Electrochemical Propulsion?
DA: We had an opportunity about five years ago to think about scientific centers. There was a call from the government and the Israel Science Foundation for all experimental scientists to gather and build organizations that can take topics and promote science in groups by collaborative efforts. I started groups that were interested in electrochemical energy storage, especially electromobility, and we prepared a proposal that was successful. From that, we were awarded funding. We started with 15 groups and after five years we demonstrated that we are a strong organization. Last year, it was renewed for another five years. Now we have a much stronger organization. We have 22 research groups from five Israeli institutions working together under the same umbrella. We promote electromobility, but the idea is that under the same umbrella we have fuel cells and batteries.
RG: What has your experience with ECS been like?
DA: ECS is a very strong organization. ECS is home to many scientists working in electrochemistry and solid state science. The meetings give researchers an opportunity to express themselves, which is very important. ECS is the home of thousands of scientists, including myself.
I’ve been affiliated with the Society since the fall meeting in Washington in 1983; so we’re talking over 30 years. It’s a very good scientific society. There’s a good atmosphere. The ECS Battery Division especially is a very good scientific organization with a lot of activities and opportunities. There’s a lot of interest throughout the world and fortunately, we’re doing good things doing good things for the world.