Researchers at RMIT University, Melbourne have demonstrated for the first time a working rechargeable “proton battery” that could change the way homes and devices are powered. The rechargeable battery is environment-friendly and with further optimization could store more energy than the currently available lithium-ion batteries. Potential applications of the proton battery may include household storage of electricity from solar photovoltaic panels, currently implemented by Tesla’s “Power Wall” that uses lithium-ion batteries. With the best aspects of both hydrogen fuel cells and battery-based electric power, the proton technology, with further development, may also be used for medium-scale storage on electricity grids and power electric vehicles. The proton battery’s working prototype uses a carbon electrode as a hydrogen store along with a reversible fuel cell to produce electricity. “Our latest advance is a crucial step towards cheap, sustainable proton batteries that can help meet our future energy needs without further damaging our already fragile environment,” says lead researcher Professor John Andrews. Andrews believes that the combination of carbon plus proton is what gives the proton battery its energy, and potential economic edge.
With the world moving towards variable renewable energy sources to reduce greenhouse emissions and tackle climate change, there is a huge requirement for the storage of electrical energy. Thus the proton battery could be one among many contributors with the potential to meet the energy storage demand. The proton battery uses carbon as its primary component which is abundant and cheap compared to, both, the hydrogen-storage alloys and the lithium required for lithium-ion batteries. Besides, powering batteries using protons has the potential to be more economical than with lithium ions, which are scarce. Moreover, unlike fossil fuels, carbon does not burn or cause any emissions in the process. Researchers could also successfully show that with an active inside surface area of mere 5.5 square centimeters, the proton battery already could to store as much energy per unit mass as commercially available lithium-ion batteries. And this could be achieved even before the battery had been optimized. The research has been partly funded by the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group and the US Office of Naval Research Global.