You may not know him, but you have used his technology. He goes by the name Rachid Yazami. His invention: a graphite anode (negative pole) in the lithium-ion battery, a type of rechargeable battery used for portable electronics, electric vehicles, and military and aerospace vehicles.
Have you used a torch, mobile phone, smartphone, laptop, tablet, digital camera/camcorder, electronic cigarette, or a game console? Have you used cordless drills or other such power tools? Have you used electric wheelchairs, electric cars, or hybrid vehicles? If you answered yes to any of those, then you have used Yazami’s technology.
Yazami is a native of Fez, Morocco. He graduated from the Moulay Rachid and Moulay Driss high schools in Fez. He obtained his baccalaureate in mathematical sciences in 1971. He did a year at Mohammed V University in Rabat then moved to the French city of Rouen where he joined preparatory classes for the grandes écoles before enrolling at the Institut Polytechnique Grenoble (Grenoble Institute of Technology, INP) in 1978.
He received his Master’s degree in electrochemistry and PhD in graphite intercalation compounds for lithium batteries at France’s Grenoble Institute of Technology. He began his career at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Grenoble where he rose to research director in 1998.
In 1980, Yazami was the first scientist to establish the reversible intercalation of lithium into graphite in an electrochemical cell using a polymer electrolyte. His discovery led to the lithium-graphite anode. Together with John Goodenough, an American professor and solid-state physicist, and Akira Yoshino, a Japanese chemist, Yazami developed the lithium-ion battery in the 1980s. Their work built on a concept proposed in the 1970s by English chemist M. Stanley Whittingham. The Japanese corporations Sony and Asahi Kasei commercialized the battery in 1991.
Since then, the lithium-ion battery has been used by various other companies, including Apple, Samsung, and Nokia. The commercial lithium-ion battery market is valued at over USD 20 billion and is estimated to be valued over USD 100 billion by 2025. The increase in market value is especially driven by the emphasis on electric cars as a means to move away from fossil fuels in the wake of the climate crisis.
Yazami has also worked on other forms of graphite materials for cathode application in lithium batteries, including graphite oxide and graphite fluoride. He has co-authored over 200 published papers and co-invented over 140 patents related to lithium primary and rechargeable batteries. Aside from the lithium-ion battery, some of his other notable work is in the fluoride-ion battery. In 2007, he founded a company in California to develop and commercialize his patented discoveries on fluoride-ion batteries which have similar uses as a lithium-ion battery but a higher energy density. For example, phones running on fluoride-ion batteries may last up to eight times longer without needing to be recharged.
Yazami has received many awards and accolades including the Honors Award of the Moroccans of the World, the title of Chevalier de la Legion of honour of France, the Royal Medal of Intellectual Competecency from HM the King of Morocco Mohamed VI, an appointment by MH the King of Morocco to be a Corresponding Member of the Hassan II Academy of Sciences and Technologies of Morocco, and the Draper Prize awarded by the Washington-based National Academy of Engineering.
Yazami currently resides in Singapore where he first served as a visiting professor at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) before being promoted to the Cheng Tsang Man Chair Professor in Energy at the School of Materials Science and Engineering in the university.