Eco-friendly proton battery offers affordable energy storage

RMIT University's new proton battery could revolutionize energy storage, offering a safe, affordable, eco-friendly alternative to lithium-ion batteries.
John Loeffler
Two fans being powered by a proton battery
Two fans being powered by a proton battery

RMIT University 

The latest 'proton battery' developed by RMIT University holds the potential to revolutionize power supply for homes, vehicles, and devices without the disposal-related environmental challenges posed by lithium-ion batteries.

The battery works by using a carbon electrode to store hydrogen that has been separated from water, functioning like a hydrogen fuel cell to generate electricity.

Currently, RMIT is launching a two-year research collaboration with the Italy-based automotive component supplier, Eldor Corporation, to refine further and prototype this technology. The relationship with Eldor isn't new as the two entities have worked together on this project for the past five years.

RMIT Professor John Andrews, who headed up the research, said that recent enhancements to the proton battery design are rendering it a competitive, carbon-neutral substitute to lithium-ion batteries.

“As the world shifts to intermittent renewable energy to achieve net-zero greenhouse emissions, additional storage options that are efficient, cheap, safe, and have secure supply chains will be in high demand,” Andrews said in an RMIT University statement.

“That’s where this proton battery – which is a very equitable and safe technology – could have real value and why we are keen to continue developing it into a viable commercial alternative.

“There are also no end-of-life environmental challenges with a proton battery since all components and materials can be rejuvenated, reused or recycled.”

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Eco-friendly proton battery offers affordable energy storage
Dr Shahin Heidari (left) and Dr Seyed Niya with the proton battery operating two small fans in the RMIT lab

The team has effectively demonstrated the operational capability of the proton battery by powering several small fans and a light for a duration of a few minutes.

“Our battery has an energy-per-unit mass already comparable with commercially-available lithium-ion batteries, while being much safer and better for the planet in terms of taking less resources out of the ground,” Andrews said.

“Our battery is also potentially capable of very fast charging.

“The main resource used in our proton battery is carbon, which is abundant, available in all countries and cheap compared to the resources needed for other types of rechargeable battery such as lithium, cobalt and vanadium.”

The battery resembles a hydrogen fuel cell

The charging process of the proton battery involves splitting water molecules to produce protons that bond with a carbon electrode. According to Andrews, this method bypasses the energy-consuming steps of storing hydrogen gas under high pressure and subsequently splitting these gas molecules again in fuel cells.

During discharge, the protons are released from the carbon electrode and combine with air oxygen to form water, generating power.

“Our proton battery has much lower losses than conventional hydrogen systems, making it directly comparable to lithium-ion batteries in terms of energy efficiency,” Andrews said.

The new battery is described in a new paper in the Journal of Power Sources.

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