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Researchers create 'proton' battery that uses carbon instead of expensive lithium

By Shawn Knight ยท 23 replies
Mar 9, 2018
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  1. Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne have created the world’s first rechargeable proton battery that uses carbon and water instead of lithium, a relatively scarce and expensive resource.

    As Engadget explains, the battery is essentially a hybrid between a hydrogen fuel cell and a chemical battery. When charging, water is split to produce protons which are then passed through a cell membrane and bond to carbon electrodes. Critically, this is done without producing hydrogen gas.

    When it comes time to use the stored energy, hydrogen atoms are released and shed an electron to re-form protons. The electrons supply the power and the hydrogen protons combine with oxygen and other electrons to reform into water.

    Again, the fact that the battery doesn’t produce hydrogen gas is key. Traditional fuel cells must produce hydrogen gas then split it back into protons, a process that reduces efficiency. Because the proton battery doesn’t produce hydrogen gas, it’s far more efficient. Even as-is without optimizations, it is on par with lithium-ion batteries in terms of efficiency.

    Professor John Andrews, lead researcher on the project, said it could be commercially available within five to 10 years. At that time, it could be an ideal solution for at-home Powerwall-type storage or even as a backup to solar panels or windmills.

    It’s promising, sure, but we’ve been fed the promise of revolutionary battery technology time and again with diminishing returns. Surely, at some point, one of them has to be commercially viable, right?

    Permalink to story.

     
  2. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,977   +1,361

    My question is, how hard is it to make and can I make it at home?
     
    Uncle Al likes this.
  3. RobStow

    RobStow TS Enthusiast Posts: 57   +21

    This article is incredibly poorly written.

    "When it comes time to use the stored energy, hydrogen ions are released and shed an electron ..."
    No. A hydrogen ion is a hydrogen atom that is already missing its electron: it is a bare proton and has no electrons left to shed. (Or in the case of other hydrogen isotopes it is a deuteron or a triton.)

    " ... to re-form the protons."
    Again, no. No protons are made during chemical reactions. There are a few ways to create protons - such as from neutrons via beta decay - but you will never see those kinds of processes in a non-nuclear battery.

    Stopped reading at that point - the author clearly has no idea what he is saying.
     
    mbrowne5061, Urgelt, Kotters and 4 others like this.
  4. GeforcerFX

    GeforcerFX TS Evangelist Posts: 814   +331

    Ohh goody another one that can replace Li-ion that will be ready in a decade or so..... Seriously how many of these articles do we get a year now?
     
  5. mosu

    mosu TS Guru Posts: 486   +92

    What about voltage, power density and life cycles? 1.12 V is very low, you'll need 3 of them to replace a lithium cell.
     
  6. JaredTheDragon

    JaredTheDragon TS Guru Posts: 434   +284

    RobStow is on it, but I shall add a few caveats...

    "When charging, water is split to produce protons which are then passed through a cell membrane and bond to carbon electrodes. Critically, this is done without producing hydrogen gas."

    Protons ARE Hydrogen. That's what Hydrogen is to begin with, a proton. It may "suck" in an electron and a neutron to pal around with, but it's still just a proton at its root. You cannot have Hydrogen without a proton, and if you have two protons that's Helium. This is the most rudimentary atomic physics, so I find it hilarious that these authors get it wrong.

    So to say they aren't creating hydrogen gas isn't to the point - any stray protons are already Hydrogen, by definition. It may be in solution or not, but it's the same thing.

    Here's my modern diagram of Hydrogen's charge profile, for reference:



    And here's Helium (the "Alpha" particle) for comparison, with the two sandwiched neutrons:

     
  7. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 4,291   +2,752

    My questions are:

    1. Can I watch?
    2. Will you make several for me?!?!
     
    stewi0001 likes this.
  8. Skjorn

    Skjorn TS Maniac Posts: 290   +159

    All the scientific corrections are great and all but my gripe is in the sub title. Should it read "five to ten" or "5 to 10" or "5-10" or I probably missed something in English class about writing numbers higher than ten?
     
  9. DrBill

    DrBill TS Rookie


    Usually I'm the only one to explain magic is not real. Thanks for being the other one.
     
  10. DrBill

    DrBill TS Rookie


    Sort of, but no.. Protons are the fundamental particles of elements, but a proton is not a hydrogen molecule and it's not even half a molecule. H2 has two protons and two electrons. Split it, you get a free radical, a proton with an electron. He has two protons, and two neutrons and two electrons. The difference between a He atom and a D2 molecule (which initially seems to match the mass) is called the "binding energy", and is the basis for fusion energy. No comparison to batteries.
     
    senketsu likes this.
  11. DrBill

    DrBill TS Rookie

    Short answer: 1. Impossible and 2. No. Can't address the story's sincerity, but the error is astonishing. Might as well try cold fusion again or fuel from sea water.
     
  12. vincentyu

    vincentyu TS Enthusiast Posts: 23   +8

    5 to 10 years? Shouldn't even bother to report it. Most battery 'breakthroughs' reported amounts to nothing. Should report something that's less than a year from commercial product.
     
  13. DrBill

    DrBill TS Rookie

    Protons are the ionic species of any aqueous acid, and they do not react with carbon. Not sure how much of the original claims were fraud or merely muddled by the reporter.

    There are no magical processes. Breaking bonds requires energy. Making bonds releases energy, but between the two, there is always a cost of unrecoverable energy. It's why perpetual motion machines (or chemistries or any other processes) simply do not work. Hydrogenation of carbon is quite hard, and would result in production of methane, ethane, etc., the related chemicals called alkanes. Fuel cells based on methane are known, and are not competitive with Li-batteries where compact size is vital. The possibility of a surface effect of adsorbed H radicals on C can't be excluded based on the article, but such a process would involve a very short lived power source, and again not be competitive with Li batteries.
     
    skipmichael likes this.
  14. regiq

    regiq TS Addict Posts: 203   +80

    Sorry guys, but reading your contradictory comments on exact science I have just one thing in mind: it's post-truth times!

    Isn't all of this a basic chemistry class?
     
  15. Shawn Knight

    Shawn Knight TechSpot Staff Topic Starter Posts: 10,486   +107

    According to AP style (p. 203): Spell out whole numbers up to (and including) nine (e.g., zero, one, 10, 96, 104). In other words, zero through nine are spelled out and 10 and above is written as digits.
     
    Darth Shiv and onestepforward like this.
  16. RobStow

    RobStow TS Enthusiast Posts: 57   +21

    If you think the "exact science" comments are contradictory, you need to read them again and think them through.

    Unfortunately, yes. Nothing that has been said in these comments goes beyond the very basic chemistry everyone should know long before they finish high school. I'm sure it is all stashed somewhere in a dusty corner of this article's author's mind and if he is going to write on topics like this he needs to dredge up and apply that knowledge to what he is writing about - we shouldn't have to do it for him.
     
  17. Darth Shiv

    Darth Shiv TS Evangelist Posts: 1,897   +522

    Interesting - thanks for the clarification.
     
  18. Skjorn

    Skjorn TS Maniac Posts: 290   +159

    Yeah that's what I thought, I just could hardly remember it.
     
  19. skipmichael

    skipmichael TS Enthusiast Posts: 46   +19

    5 to 10 years??? You got be kidding. By then we will be using something else a lot better than what they are working on now. 1 year is your time frame. No longer
     
  20. Skjorn

    Skjorn TS Maniac Posts: 290   +159

    lol I can't tell if sarcasm or what lmao 1 year. We been using the same lithium batteries for longer.
    by then we will also most likely still be using roughly the same battery tech, my six year old phone still has the same battery tech as the iPhoneX, lithium.
     
  21. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,977   +1,361

    Back to cold fusion then! ;P
     
  22. mbrowne5061

    mbrowne5061 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,010   +522

    The fact that it still consumes and produces water as part of its energy cycle will always relegate it to stationary use. You'll never see it in a phone, and you'll likely never see it in a car. You might see it in a home as a 'power wall', and you'll most likely see them as "facility backup generators" and up deployments.
     
  23. Abraka

    Abraka TS Addict Posts: 176   +54

    No doubt lithium-mining lobby will buy the patent and store it safely for the next 20 years. Or however long the mining reserves will last.
     
  24. ChrisH1

    ChrisH1 TS Addict Posts: 116   +61

    Going back to the original article, it seems it works like this: in charging, water is split. The hydrogen (as protons) bonds to one of the carbon electrodes. Not stated, but presumably the oxygen leaves the cell. Then on discharge the hydrogen combines with oxygen from the air in a fuel cell to reverse the process.

    The electrode was able to store1% by weight hydrogen, 1.2 volt cell.

    https://www.rmit.edu.au/news/all-news/2018/mar/all-power-to-the-proton
     

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