New Proton battery promises cheaper, greener energy storage

Two male researchers in a lab testing their new proton battery prototype
Shahin Heidari (left) and Seyed Niya with the proton battery operating two small fans in the RMIT lab (Image: RMIT University)

Engineers in Melbourne believe their latest experimental ‘proton battery’ could one day be developed to power homes, vehicles and devices—without the end-of-life environmental challenges of lithium-ion batteries. RMIT University has patented the latest developments in this technology internationally.

The battery uses a carbon electrode to store hydrogen that has been split from water, and then works as a hydrogen fuel cell to produce electricity.

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The RMIT team is now embarking on a two-year research collaboration with Italian-based international automotive component supplier, Eldor Corporation, to develop and prototype this technology. RMIT has been collaborating with Eldor over the past five years on the same technology.

Lead researcher Professor John Andrews said recent design improvements to their proton battery meant it was becoming competitive as a carbon-neutral alternative 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,” said Prof Andrews, from RMIT’s School of Engineering.

“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.”

The team has demonstrated the proton battery as a working device that can power several small fans and a light for several 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,” Prof Andrews said.

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

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“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.

“We are looking forward to developing this technology further in Melbourne and Italy, in partnership with Eldor Corporation, to produce a prototype battery with a storage capacity that meets the needs of a range of domestic and commercial applications,” Prof Andrews said.

“The aim of this collaboration is to scale up the system from the watt to the kilowatt and ultimately to the megawatt scale.”

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