The proton battery is currently the talk of among scientists and technology enthusiasts the world over. Researchers at the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia have created a rechargeable prototype that is showing promising results. With mobile power an increasingly hot topic, I’m going to explain what it is, and what the near future may look like?
The Future of mobile power is the Proton Battery
The first thing to say is that for well over a decade power cell technology has been dominated by Lithium-ion batteries. These are the most common type, and you will have used many of them in your lifetime. Why are they so abundant? Put simply, they work, and they’re affordable to the consumer. However, they’re not necessarily great for the environment. The issue is the scarcity of the materials used to make them…
In case you hadn’t guessed it the primary material needed is Lithium (Li), and it is scarce, to say the least. With the demand for mobile power on the increase, it’s putting a strain on the planet’s resources. And as there’s no way to make Li in the lab, you have to mine or extract it from brine. And that means it’s a slow process, and eventually, the demand will exceed world supply. That would then make Li-ion batteries an unsustainable choice with which to power your mobile device; you know the one you’re reading this on!
What makes Proton Batteries special?
What I am trying to say here is that proton batteries are something extraordinarily special. Why? Well, the proton is a fundamental particle — opposite in charge to an electron and about 2000 times heavier. Every material is made up of them which makes them a perfect choice for storing electrical energy. Li-ions are Li atoms with a net charge. That means they can only be made once you’ve spent a lot of effort finding some Li.
By opening up the choice of materials used to make power, the proton battery allows companies to think big once again. Rather than being limited to a narrow class of materials manufacturers should in principle be able to experiment. That is precisely what RMIT have done by using Carbon (C). Carbon is virtually everywhere you look on the planet and is one of the most abundant materials in the universe. Seriously, it’s an ideal sustainable candidate if ever there were one!
Talk of new tech and working prototypes always jumps to how likely it is we’ll see it on sale soon. The promising thing here people is that the RMIT prototype is already delivering the same power as a 1.2 V Li-ion battery. Clearly, this is more than a basic proof of concept as today, it is powerful enough to power a whole host of devices. The active area is 5.5 square centimeters which means its lateral dimensions are also on par.
This is an exciting development indeed because it shows that the energy density of even the earliest prototype is workable. For those of you not familiar with this term think of it like this: The higher the energy density, the smaller the battery.
It’d be no use creating a battery with huge power if it was the size of a car battery. It’d be no fun carrying that thing around, would it? With the team proving the concept, the question is: “what’s happening now?”
As with every new development, the next step is to push the boundaries and then standardize. The versatility of carbon lies in the number of new materials you can create by rearranging the way the C atoms sit relevant to one another.
I know, that’s probably confusing, but, think about this: Think about how different Diamonds and Coal look! The goal of the RMIT team is to push the energy density to new heights. In doing so, they will create a battery that is smaller and more powerful than any modern Li-ion.
Once this is achieved it will confirm that it is worth investing heavily in efforts to mass produce this new tech. Graphene seems to offer the most promising way to ramp the density. A single layer of Carbon with unique properties; Graphene has shown itself to be a wonder material in recent years. It can regularly be produced in 1-meter square sheets with minimal defects. And that means synthesis shouldn’t be an issue, only integration left then!
When can you use one?
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that you’ll see them hit the shelves within the next 5-years. The concept is amazing, the applications limitless, but there’s still a long way to go. All I’ll say is tech fans should watch this space…