Japanese win ‘engineering’s Nobel’


The U.S. National Academy of Engineering presented four engineers, including two Japanese, with its highest honor for developing lithium-ion batteries, the technology used to power cellphones and other portable electronics.

Asahi Kasei Corp. fellow Akira Yoshino, 66, and Yoshio Nishi, 72, a former Sony Corp. executive, were among the four recipients of this year’s Draper Prize, an annual award known as the “Nobel Prize of engineering.”

The invention of lithium-ion batteries made possible cellphones, laptop computers, cameras and other electronics that rely on miniaturized, rechargeable power sources. The batteries are also used in electric cars and in airplanes.

Analysts forecast that the market for the batteries will reach more than $60 billion, or ¥6.18 trillion, by 2020.

Yoshino built the prototype for today’s lithium-ion batteries in 1985, while Nishi directed Sony’s efforts to build a safer version of the battery that could be used in consumer goods.

Although Yoshino has already received many awards for his work, he said: “being recognized by the U.S. Academy is exceptional. I’m really happy.”

“This is a technology that Japan led the world in successfully implementing,” Nishi said. “The results we achieved show the power of forward-looking corporate research.”

The $500,000 prize will be divided among the four recipients, who also include Rachid Yazami of France’s National Center for Scientific Research and John B. Goodenough of the University of Texas.

In 2013, Yoshihisa Okumura became the first Japanese recipient of the award for his work on cellphone signal transmission.