The world’s first rechargeable proton battery doesn’t create any waste and could solve our reliance on lithium

The battery uses carbon and water and it can already produce the same amount of energy as an equivalent sized lithium-ion battery

13 Mar 2018
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Scientists from Melbourne’s RMIT University have created the world’s first rechargeable proton battery, which could prove an important step towards creating a cheap, environmentally friendly alternative to today’s lithium batteries.

The battery, which uses carbon and water, can already produce the same amount of energy as an equivalent sized lithium-ion battery, and because the carbon isn’t burned, it doesn’t create any emissions or other waste products.

"As the world moves towards inherently-variable renewable energy to reduce greenhouse emissions and tackle climate change, requirements for electrical energy storage will be gargantuan,” said the paper’s lead researcher Professor John Andrews.

The RMIT-developed proton battery connected to a voltmeter. Image credit: RMIT University

"The proton battery is one among many potential contributors towards meeting this enormous demand for energy storage. Powering batteries with protons has the potential to be more economical than using lithium ions, which are made from scare resources."

"Carbon, which is the primary resource used in our proton battery, is abundant and cheap compared to both metal hydrogen-storage alloys, and the lithium needed for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries."

With modification, the proton battery could be used in everything from electric vehicles and units like Tesla’s Powerwall to electricity grids like the giant lithium battery in South Australia.

Several years ago, the team established that a proton battery with a metal alloy electrode for storing hydrogen would work but was too expensive and inefficient to be commercially viable. However, the latest version, which combines a carbon electrode with a reversible fuel cell, is as efficient as lithium-ion batteries, and because the prototype hasn’t been optimised, the team now aims to make it more efficient still.

"Future work will now focus on further improving performance and energy density through use of atomically-thin layered carbon-based materials such as graphene, with the target of a proton battery that is truly competitive with lithium ion batteries firmly in sight," Andrews said.