Proton Batteries

The Holy Grail Of Energy Storage?

Rob Bell

Issue 10, April 2018

The quest for clean energy storage is a tough one, and an ongoing challenge that is plaguing the renewables industry.

How do we store a clean energy source such as solar, without using such toxic compounds in our batteries? Lithium-based batteries, and also classic technology such as lead-acid batteries, have provided us with an increasing ability to store more and more power. The problem with these things however, is that they use materials that are precious, rare, or toxic (or a combination). Sure, the expensive lead can be recycled, as can many others, but the process is usually highly toxic, sometimes even more toxic than the original manufacturing process. None of these things are great for the environment, or the people working with these processes.


Fuel cells never really took off for mass storage, despite being a powerful option for energy storage, on the surface. Take standard fresh water, for example; if we use electricity to split out the hydrogen, then an electrochemical reaction provides a current, and the net result is water! As far as waste by-products go, that’s a pretty awesome one! With the push towards electric cars, hydrogen-powered vehicles generally use fuel cells to convert the hydrogen back to usable electricity, so have been proposed several times. However, they require obtaining the hydrogen from somewhere, which would bring with it hydrogen refuelling stations. This isn’t really far from the idea of LPG or even petroleum storage, but it still requires specialised refuelling, fuel transportation, and other problems that electricity distribution doesn’t require.


A team at RMIT in Melbourne have proved the concept with some great new technology. Their team, lead by Professor John Andrews, says “Our latest advance is a crucial step towards cheap, sustainable proton batteries that can help meet our future energy needs without further damaging our already fragile environment.”

The working prototype
The working prototype from RMIT (image courtesy of RMIT University)

Adding, “It’s the carbon electrode plus protons from water that give the proton battery it’s environmental, energy and potential economic edge...”

This latest advance is “a crucial step towards creating cheap, sustainable proton batteries that can help meet our future energy needs without further damaging our already fragile environment. As the world moves towards inherently-variable renewable energy to reduce greenhouse emissions and tackle climate change, requirements for electrical energy storage will be gargantuan.” Andrews explains.

He adds, “Powering batteries with protons has the potential to be more economical than using lithium ions, which are made from scarce resources, although the proton battery is one of many potential contributors that are working towards meeting this enormous demand for energy storage.”

"Carbon, which is the primary resource used in our proton battery, is abundant and cheap compared to both metal hydrogen-storage alloys, and the lithium needed for rechargeable lithium ion batteries."

- Andrews concludes


While it’s just an advanced prototype, this is a huge advance in energy storage technology, and it’s one that can be refined to improve the overall concept. With the perseverance and intelligence in research groups such as this one, there’s a solution out there just waiting to happen.