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

Shawn Knight

Posts: 12,795   +124
Staff member

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?

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RobStow

Posts: 62   +22
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.
 

GeforcerFX

Posts: 981   +453
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?
 

mosu

Posts: 550   +191
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.
 

JaredTheDragon

Posts: 684   +441
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:

 

Skjorn

Posts: 562   +409
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?
 
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.

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


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.
 
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vincentyu

Posts: 35   +20
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.
 
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.
 
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regiq

Posts: 237   +113
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?
 

Shawn Knight

Posts: 12,795   +124
Staff member
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  • #15
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?
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.
 

RobStow

Posts: 62   +22
Sorry guys, but reading your contradictory comments on exact science I have just one thing in mind: it's post-truth times!
If you think the "exact science" comments are contradictory, you need to read them again and think them through.

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

Darth Shiv

Posts: 2,089   +677
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?
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.
Interesting - thanks for the clarification.
 

Skjorn

Posts: 562   +409
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.
Yeah that's what I thought, I just could hardly remember it.
 

skipmichael

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
 

Skjorn

Posts: 562   +409
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
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.
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,721   +978
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.
 

Abraka

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.
 

ChrisH1

Posts: 155   +73
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