Proton Batteries: Brilliant And Sustainable

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The world’s first rechargeable battery using protons could be the biggest breakthrough in battery sustainability. Just don’t expect it to be in stores any time soon.

Head researcher at TMIT University in Melbourne said that it could take five to ten years before the battery will be available on store shelves. But it doesn’t mean that it’s not leading to immediate breakthroughs in electrical research.

The Potential Benefits:

This is a crucial step towards more inexpensive, and environmentally friendly energy storage. The rechargeable battery uses carbon and water rather than lithium.

Lithium ion batteries rely heavily on scarce and costly resources. What gives this battery prototype the edge is that researchers are getting protons from water – an abundant and readily available resource.

The battery produces zero carbon emissions and can store electricity from renewable sources that also have zero emissions.

Overall, the biggest advantage with proton batteries is efficiency. Fuel cells have to produce hydrogen gas and split it back into protons, which leads to loss. A proton battery never produces hydrogen gas, meaning that its efficiency is comparable to lithium-ion batteries.

The Even Bigger Picture:

Rather than focusing on other metals such as magnesium, the researchers used carbon and water, which can potentially allow for cheaper storage to back up windmills, or solar panels.

The batteries are a hybrid between chemical batteries and hydrogen fuel cell.

The Technicalities Behind the Battery:

When the battery is being charged, water is split to produce protons. These protons pass through a cell membrane and bond to the carbon electrodes, without producing hydrogen gas.

In order to tap the energy that is stored in the battery, hydrogen ions are released and lose an electron in order to re-form the protons. Essentially, electrons provide power, and the hydrogen protons combine with oxygen and other electrons to re-form into water.

Zero Carbon Emissions:

You can’t really beat this. It’s simple: anything that doesn’t create toxic emissions is advantageous and we should run with it.

Mining traditional batteries and other rare metals is not good for our ecosystem. It leads to chemical emissions and a loss of vegetation. Additionally, processing conductive materials requires a ton of energy- one that comes from electricity generated through fossil fuels.

The viability of this battery actually taking off relies on the growing shift to clean energy. It will eventually be competitive with Tesla’s Powerwall.

There’s a large part of the industry and governments that simply don’t want to take these risks. Investments require deep commitment toward sustainable energy. RMIT researchers will now have to see whether they can find market viability for the proton batteries within the next five years, otherwise, this might just be another project for the books.

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About Author

Nadia Zaidi

Nadia Zaidi is a freelance multimedia journalist whose work is featured in several print and digital publications. She previously developed and hosted a show on youth issues for community television, and produces short-documentaries for public outreach. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Ryerson University.

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