New Battery: No Lithium

March 9, 2018


Lithium mining is a big new industry based on the multiplying applications and exploding EV market.  A lot of people are worried about it as an environmental threat on its own -and rightfully.

But given the pace of technology development, do we really think the batteries of 2030 will be the same as those of today?


Scientists have created the world’s first rechargeable proton battery, a crucial step towards cheaper and more environmentally-friendly energy storage.

While the battery is just a small-scale prototype, it has the potential to be competitive with currently available lithium-ion batteries.

The rechargeable battery, created by researchers at RMIT university in Melbourne, uses carbon and water instead of lithium.

The lead researcher Professor John Andrews said that as the world moved towards renewables, there would be a significant need for storage technologies that relied on cheap and abundant materials.

Green Car Congress:

The working prototype proton battery combines the best aspects of hydrogen fuel cells and battery-based electrical power. In 2014, the RMIT team showed that a proton battery with a metal alloy electrode for storing hydrogen could work, but its reversibility and rechargeability was too low. (Earlier post.) Also the alloy employed contained rare-earth elements, and was thus heavy and costly.

The latest version combines a carbon-based electrode for solid-state storage of hydrogen instead of metal hydride as in the earlier work with a reversible fuel cell to provide an integrated rechargeable unit. The oxygen side of the reversible cell is similar to a PEM URFC (unitized regenerative fuel cell) with titanium felt as the gas diffusion layer (GDL) and a mixed platinum/iridium oxide catalyst.


Schematic diagram of the experimental proton battery with an activated carbon electrode. Heidari et al.

Essentially a proton battery is a reversible PEM fuel cell with an integrated solid-state electrode for storing hydrogen in atomic form, rather than as molecular gaseous hydrogen in an external cylinder. It is thus a hybrid between a hydrogen-fuel-cell and battery-based system, combining advantages of both system types.

—Heidari et al.

The successful use of an electrode made from activated carbon in a proton battery is a significant step forward and is reported in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy.

During charging, protons produced by water splitting in a reversible fuel cell are conducted through the cell membrane and directly bond with the storage material with the aid of electrons supplied by the applied voltage, without forming hydrogen gas.

In electricity supply mode this process is reversed; hydrogen atoms are released from the storage and lose an electron to become protons once again. These protons then pass back through the cell membrane where they combine with oxygen and electrons from the external circuit to re-form water.

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.

The latest experimental results showed that a porous activated-carbon electrode made from phenolic resin was able to store around 1 wt% hydrogen in the electrode. This is an energy per unit mass already comparable with commercially-available lithium ion batteries, even though the proton battery is far from being optimized. The maximum cell voltage was 1.2 volt.

Potential applications for the proton battery include household storage of electricity from solar photovoltaic panels. With some modifications and scaling up, proton battery technology may also be used for medium-scale storage on electricity grids as well as powering electric vehicles.

Future work will now focus on further improving performance and energy density through use of atomically-thin layered carbon-based materials such as graphene, with the target of a proton battery that is truly competitive with lithium ion batteries firmly in sight.

—Professor John Andrews, corresponding author

6 Responses to “New Battery: No Lithium”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    So much of the advantage of Li+ batteries is that they are lightweight, making them ideal for cars and gadgets, but I look forward to slab-sited battery technology that can be cheaply made without that constraint.

    • adrianvance Says:

      The advantage comes from the top of the list position on the Electromotive Series table if you examine the science of the situation. That lithium is light in weight has nothing to do with the issue in this application.

      • Sir Charles Says:

        You have to take account of several properties for making good batteries. Conductivity, standard electrode potential, specific weight, toxicity, and last not least price and global abundance.

  2. From a Graphite Miner to now having built an operating Commercial Graphene production plant whilst developing a Graphene Battery (Super Capacitor) with rapid charge time, very high energy density (10xLi) and long life 10+ years. The battery is still in development but well on it’s way. You can order the graphene today

    The “battery” and applications
    While it is intended that the BEST™ Battery development program will eventually provide suitable substitutes for many devices which currently used flat pack and cylindrical batteries, it will also provide batteries for new, innovative purposes.
    The thin profile of the Battery, and its flexibility, will make it suitable for use in clothing. It could also be integrated into smart watch bands, as an example, rather than having a solid block configuration.

    It is already showing excellent ability to convert kinetic energy into stored energy due to the speed at which it can charge i.e. simple movement of shaking can recharge the Battery.

    The official Stock exchange report

  3. Sir Charles Says:

    For several centuries now, simple movement of shaking can wind up your watch. No chemistry needed. No electronics needed. Just mechanics. It’s called an automatic watch.

  4. schwadevivre Says:

    That’s likely to be a biggie

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