RMIT’s “cheaper, cleaner” proton battery has li-ion firmly in sights

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Australian RMIT team make “crucial step” towards cheap, sustainable energy storage after demonstrating rechargeable “proton battery” prototype.

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This is the RMIT-developed proton battery connected to a voltmeter. The working prototype has an energy per unit mass already comparable with commercially-available lithium ion batteries. Credit: RMIT University

Researchers from RMIT in Melbourne have made what they say is a “crucial step” towards cheap, sustainable battery storage after successfully demonstrating a working, rechargeable “proton battery” prototype.

In a paper published in the Science Daily journal on Wednesday, the RMIT team said its latest experiments had demonstrated the carbon-based battery was already comparable with commercially-available lithium-ion batteries, even though it was “far from being optimised.”

The breakthrough comes as a global battery boom – so far dominated by lithium-ion based products – starts to gear up, in the race to renewable power networks and electric vehicles.

The working prototype proton battery uses a carbon electrode as a hydrogen store, coupled with a reversible fuel cell to produce electricity.

During charging, the carbon in the electrode bonds with protons generated by splitting water with the help of electrons from the power supply, the paper says.

The protons are then released again and pass back through the reversible fuel cell to form water with oxygen from air to generate power.

Lead researcher, Professor John Andrews, says it is the carbon electrode plus protons from water that give the battery it’s environmental, energy and potential economic edge.

“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,” Andrews said.

“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.

“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.”

Andrews said the team focus would now shift to further improving the battery’s performance and energy density through the use of “atomically-thin layered carbon-based materials” like graphene.

But he said their target – a proton battery that is truly competitive with lithium-ion batteries – was “firmly in sight.”

RMIT’s research on the proton battery has been partly funded by the Australian Defence Science and Technology Group and the US Office of Naval Research Global.

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11 Comments
  1. grantoz 7 months ago

    This is awesome! But like most Aussie innovations, will probably be sold to overseas investors for a pittance because nobody here will back it. Prove me wrong, **please**!!

  2. Eric 6 months ago

    Oh no, there go my Lithium ,Cobalt and Graphite shares! Better by some Graphene shares, maybe, in about ten years 🙂

    By the way, whoever is developing this, can you get on with it, we needed it yesterday!

    • Mike Dill 6 months ago

      And as with everything else, just because it works in the lab does not mean that it will scale into production.

  3. Radbug 6 months ago

    World class research. As I understand it, during charging, the electrodes & electrolyte function as a water splitter, wherein the hydrogen migrates to the carbon reservoir, and during discharge, the electrodes & electrolyte function as PEM fuel cell, consuming the hydrogen that emerges from the carbon reservoir. Theoretically, a water splitter could function as a fuel cell, but I have never it before in the literature. I’d like to see some figures on this cell’s energy/power density. I assume that, during discharge, the cell admits air to combine with the hydrogen during its PEM cell function with all that implies for CO poisoning of the catalyst.

    • Ian Porter 6 months ago

      By admitting air you are going to oxidise the carbon and create CO/CO2. What is your intended purpose for letting air in?

    • crazy biologist 6 months ago

      So far the battery is able to store in electrolysis (charge) mode very nearly 1 wt%
      (mass fraction) hydrogen, and release on discharge 0.8 wt% in fuel cell (electricity
      supply) mode, an energy per unit mass already comparable with commercially-available
      lithium ion batteries, even though the proton battery is far from being
      optimised.

    • crazy biologist 6 months ago

      I looks like the carbon electrode is on the opposite side of the membrane from the catalyst. I managed to find this image which is a larger version of the one available with the free version of the article at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360319918302714 https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f5569fb306aaed359ce0f2364a6bfd4390d35319eac63c7190c65d101e508f5b.jpg

  4. Ruben 6 months ago

    Round trip efficiencies will be very low, as with all electrolysis.
    So if you’re looking at storing electricity efficiently, this will not be a solution. If you’ve got way too much cheap electricity and you don’t care too much about efficiency, then this might be a good solution.

    • crazy biologist 6 months ago

      A major potential advantage of the proton battery is much higher energy
      efficiency than conventional hydrogen systems, making it comparable to
      lithium ion batteries. The losses associated with hydrogen gas evolution
      and splitting back into protons are eliminated. It has an integrated solid-state electrode for storing hydrogen in atomic form, rather than as molecular gaseous hydrogen in an external cylinder.

  5. Mark Fowler 6 months ago

    While I welcome the announcement I always keep in mind the old adage about the commercialisation of new technologies like these – “ten years and a billion dollars”.

  6. Robert Comerford 6 months ago

    I wish them well

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