Researchers at Uppsala University have developed a new type of experimental proton battery that’s built with entirely organic components, making it much more environmentally friendly than most, New Atlas reports. On top of that, it can also be charged in a matter of minutes and can function at very low temperatures.
Most batteries, such as the ubiquitous lithium-ion battery, are made with metals that need to be mined and refined, which creates a lot of environmental harm. And then of course there’s the problem with disposing of them safely as well.
So, the researchers on the new study set out to create organic batteries, made of elements that are easier to find in nature. In this case, the active material is a group of organic compounds called quinones. These are often used by bacteria and plants in processes like photosynthesis and cellular respiration.
For the new battery design, the electrodes are made out of solid polymers of certain quinones. These are immersed in an acidic, watery solution that acts as the electolyte, allowing electrons to pass back and forth between the cathode and anode in a “rocking chair” motion. This is the same basic mechanism behind lithium-ion batteries, except this design shuttles hydrogen ions around. Since these ions only contain protons, the system is referred to as a proton battery.
But you won’t exactly be powering your car or even your phone with this device. It’s only a small button cell battery, and with a capacity of 60 mAh it’s tiny even by those standards.
That said, the prototype proton battery has its advantages. Along with the organic factor, it’s also quick to charge, reaching full capacity in just 100 seconds. Tests showed that it could withstand 500 charge/discharge cycles while retaining most of its capacity. The team says that the electrolyte solution is safer than others and won’t explode or catch fire, and finally, the battery can keep running at very low temperatures.
“As I’m sure many people are aware, the performance of standard batteries declines at low temperatures,” says Christian Strietzel, first author of the study. “We have demonstrated that this organic proton battery retains properties such as capacity down to as low as -24 °C (-11 °F).”
The team says that the design is a good proof of concept, but optimization could improve the voltage and capacity, and using other quinones could help as well.
“A great deal of further development still remains to be done on the battery before it becomes a household item; however, the proton battery we have developed is a large stride towards being able to manufacture sustainable organic batteries in future,” says Strietzel.
The research was published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.