A “proton flow battery” created at RMIT University in Australia can store as much energy per unit of weight as a mid-range lithium-ion battery and is just as energy-efficient, the developers say.
A Tesla 3’s battery pack delivers about 260 watt-hours of power per kilogram, while the proton battery rates at 245.
The difference: the proton battery uses no lithium, avoiding the global scramble to tie up sources of the metal that has sent prices soaring by sevenfold or more in the past three years.
In fact, the battery uses no pricey metals at all. Instead, it uses carbon, which is dirt cheap and available virtually everywhere.
China also has a lock on lithium refining, which makes the key component in today’s electric vehicle batteries subject to geopolitical conflicts and whims.
When the proton battery is charged, it splits water into positive hydrogen ions and oxygen. It stores the ions in the pores of a carbon electrode immersed in a weak acid electrolyte.
When oxygen is reintroduced into the battery, the oxygen combines with the hydrogen to produce water in a reaction that releases electrons and creates an electric current.
The proton battery is lighter than its metal counterparts, not subject to fires as lithium batteries sometimes are, and can be completely recycled at the end of its life. It also is fast-charging, the developers say.
TRENDPOST: The “lithium panic” has inspired a range of alternative battery chemistries. While the proton battery still needs refinement, it is less complicated than many other alternatives and won’t be hampered by competition for costly materials.
As non-lithium batteries enter the market over the next two to five years, the price of lithium will come down. However, it will still be subject to geopolitical and competitive market forces. That will give the proton battery an edge: carbon, water, and oxygen are everywhere.
Prototype of RMIT’s proton flow battery.
Photo: RMIT University