# Electric appliances - electron vs proton currents

So lets get back to the basics in electricity. As everyone knows, electric current is just a flow of charged particles, so there is nothing special about it. But what about the type of particles and the differences of produced currents?

To make things simple let's take a look at 2 basic charged particles - protons and electrons. They have the same charge, but with the opposite sign. Also electron weights about 2000 times less compared to proton.

As far as I understand, in electric appliances we use only electron currents. They originate as flow of electrons in the crystallic structures of atoms in conductors between protons (just like Dirac's concept, it is an ocean of electrons). But what happens if we choose protons as a charge carrier?

Since it is much heavier with the same charge, its current flow will produce much more work - just about proportionally to the weight ratio.

And also it is quite ineffective to use light electrons in heating elements and mechanical appliances like electric motors or transport devices (cars, scooters, planes, helicopters and drones).

So my guess is that electrons currents are good at communications with low losses. But when it comes to heavy work or heating, protons currents are about 2000 times more effective as much more massive particles.

So the question is - why aren't we still using proton currents - are there some technical difficulties about generating or transporting it?

Also is it possible to generate the opposite flows of particles with the same charge value, but much differences in weights?

That would allow us to create devices to get 2000 times increasing force just by generating small amounts of electrons with no problems with energy conservation laws.

• Some oxides conduct through atomic movement (more properly charged vacancy movement). But, moving atoms (including protons) around is much much harder than moving electrons. – Jon Custer May 17 '20 at 23:51
• What is the basis for your claim "it is quite ineffective to use light electrons in heating elements and mechanical appliances"? – The Photon May 17 '20 at 23:57
• Well, since positrons are much more heavier it would be much more efficient to use their flow to shake other atoms when heating or producing mechanical work, compared to very light electrons. Just compare the flow of same volumes of gas and liquid through generator fan - the liquid will generate much more mechanical work and electricity. – PizzaBlogger May 18 '20 at 0:04
• I guess there are some problems with generating and transporting positron currents - that require some kind of special technology, it is not developed yet. – PizzaBlogger May 18 '20 at 0:06
• @PizzaBlogger At the end of the day, if you want to take $N$ particles of charge $\pm q$ and pass them through a potential difference of $\pmV$, then each one will come out with a the same kinetic energy $qV$. It doesn't matter how much they weigh. The heavier particles will be slower, and the lighter particles will be faster. The protons will generate less current, but they will deliver the same amount of overall energy. – Jahan Claes May 19 '20 at 21:05

it is quite ineffective to use light electrons in heating elements and mechanical appliances

Where did you read this? It is absurd.

Since it is much heavier with the same charge, it's current flow will produce much more work

This is nonsense. The work done in electrostatics by moving a charged particle from one point to another depends on the charge on the particle and the potential difference between the locations. It has nothing to do with the mass of the particle.

why aren't we still using proton currents - are there some technical difficulties about generating or transporting it ?

The kind of current you get depends on the kind of material the current is flowing in.

In metals, electrons are the free carriers and all the protons are confined in the atomic nuclei. So if you use metals in your circuit, the carriers in those metals will be electrons, not protons.

We do sometimes use proton currents. For example, in an electrochemical cell there are both positive and negative ion currents, with the positive charges on the positive ions being contributed by an excess of protons relative to electrons in those ions.

In semiconductors we also have currents from electron-holes, which are quantum particles resulting from the absence of electrons in certain energy states in a material, and which behave like positively charged carriers. But their effective mass is comparable (maybe 1-5x) the effective mass of an electron in the same material.

• 'The work done in electrostatics by moving a charged particle from one point to another depends on the charge on the particle and the potential difference between the locations. It has nothing to do with the mass of the particle.' - But what about mechanical work - is there no difference in work/energy between moving a very light and a very heavy particle ? I guess moving heavy object require more work/energy. – PizzaBlogger May 18 '20 at 0:18
• The question is more about any fundamental differences in proton vs electron currents. Especially in applied electric mechanical/heating devices, where proton currents could come in handy. – PizzaBlogger May 18 '20 at 0:22
• @PizzaBlogger, Yes it takes more work to drive a motor that is more heavily loaded. But that load depends on the mass (and moment) of the load, not the mass of the carriers providing current in the motor's windings. The power delivered by the current through the windings depends on the current (charge x number of particles / time) and potential difference, nothing to do with the mass of the carriers. – The Photon May 18 '20 at 0:26
• It would not be more efficient. The electrical energy delivered is voltage x current, and doesn't depend on the mass of the carrier. – The Photon May 18 '20 at 0:51
• You are comparing a mechanical system to an electromagnetic system. The rules aren't the same. The generator fan input is kinetic energy of the fluid. The input to the electric motor is electrical potential energy. The kinetic energy of the particles going into the fan depends on their mass. The electrical potential energy of the particles going into the electric motor depends on their charge and doesn't depend on their mass. – The Photon May 18 '20 at 1:54

Since it is much heavier with the same charge, it's current flow will produce much more work - just about proportionally the weight ratio.

This is simply not correct, and in fact would be very clearly impossible.

Consider a typical lead acid battery. For every two electrons that go through the circuit from the - terminal to the + terminal there is one $$HSO_4^-$$ ion that goes through the battery from the + terminal to the - terminal and one $$H^+$$ ion that goes through the battery from the - terminal to the + terminal. An $$HSO_4^-$$ ion has about 177000 times the mass of an electron.

If what you said were true then the - terminal would be receiving about 88000 times as much energy from the electrolyte as it is delivering to the circuit. For a good size car battery with 100 A at 12 V that would mean that around 100 MW of power would be lost at the - terminal. Either energy would not be conserved at the rate of 100 MW or that much power would be converted to heat or pressure or some such. Either way it would be highly noticeable.

The mass of the charge carriers is not relevant for the amount of power delivered. We have over 2 centuries of experience using protons and even heavier ions as charge carriers. They simply do not work the way you believe they do.

• Ok, take a look at a simple model. Let's say we have got perfect vacuum tubes as a way to transfer proton or any other heavy charged ion currents without loss. Just compare the amount of energy transfer between very light and quite heavy with the same total charge transfer. That is the idea - to transfer the large amounts of energy to use it in heavy work applications. – PizzaBlogger May 19 '20 at 19:15
• And of course I guess no one is doubting energy conservation laws. If you spend an amount of energy to create plasma flow, you will spend about the same amount to stop them in applications - so it is a kind of much more effective way of transfering the energy in terms of same particles count and thus charge transfer. – PizzaBlogger May 19 '20 at 19:40
• @PizzaBlogger We have well over 1 century of experience working with cathode ray tubes and other particle accelerators. It doesn’t work that way. First, they are terribly inefficient ways to transfer energy from the cathode to the anode because of the need to overcome the work function at the cathode. Second, if you accelerate an electron or a proton in vacuum through a 1 V potential then you wind up with 1 eV of kinetic energy. It doesn’t matter a bit if it is an electron or a proton. – Dale May 19 '20 at 20:28

In a wire electrons can move because the atoms they "belong" to do not hold them strongly enough. The protons, being held in the nucleus, are not free to move at all. When electricity passes through a solution, as in electrolysis, there are both positive and negative ions present. These ions move through the solution - positive ions in one direction and negative ions in the other. Although the ions are several times heavier than a proton, their mass does not increase the rate of energy transfer.

If heavy particles were more efficient at carrying energy, this would mean that much of their energy was kinetic energy of the particles. However the fact that electricity in a wire carries energy has nothing to do with the kinetic energy of the particles. The only normal place you see kinetic energy carried by charged particles is inside the picture tube of an old TV set. To transmit energy this way we would need a beam of particles in space.

Electrical energy comes from the electric fields/potentials and the electric charges. When you turn on a switch electrons start pushing other electrons and the push is transmitted very quickly, so distant electrons are affected in a small fraction of a second. However the electrons themselves only travel at millimetres per second.

• I guess protons are not good in this example. So let's switch to heavy ions plasma in vacuum. The idea is to use just the same electric fields/potentials properties, but apply it to much heavier particles to do heavy work. – PizzaBlogger May 19 '20 at 19:31
• To make it really clear. Let's say we have got two types of medium - mechanical particles with inertial kinetic energy storage/medium and electric charges with the properties of fast action transfer using fields. The idea is to combine both properties to create much more efficient channel transfer. What's the point of using vast amounts of electrons to move something instead of just a few heavy particles ? Electrons are good just as a charge transfer due to their high charge to mass ratio/density. – PizzaBlogger May 19 '20 at 19:48
• @PizzaBlogger, I don't know how efficient it would be to use a beam of positive charges in space to transmit energy, but in an atmosphere it is very inefficient. Alpha particles, which are very fast-moving helium nuclei, even heavier than protons, typically travel only a few centimetres in air, because they collide with the air molecules. The other problem is to get the energy out of the protons when they arrive, and it would be difficult to convert their kinetic energy to anything except heat -not very efficient! – Peter May 20 '20 at 1:01

In electrical engineering by convention current is considered the flow of positive charge. In reality for most solid conductors only electrons physically move. Protons do not move. It is the proton charge that effectively “moves” in the direction opposite the movement of electrons.

Visualize electrons moving to the right in a conductor. When a single electron moves to the right it leaves behind an atom with a net positive charge. Another electron to the left of that positively charged atom moves in making the charge neutral again but leaving another atom to the left of it with a net positive charge. As electrons move to the right occupying new and vacating previous atoms an equal amount of positive charge of the atoms effectively “moves” to the left. But protons themselves do not move.

Hope this helps

• Well, that is quite obvious. But in this example we couldn't use the mass properties of particles to transfer energy efficient. – PizzaBlogger May 19 '20 at 19:32
• To make it clear, think of mass as the property or medium to transfer energy using common electric fields. I guess it is quite obvious. – PizzaBlogger May 19 '20 at 19:51
• @PizzaBlogger I don't understand your comment. If my answer is "so obvious" then why did you state in your post "But what happens if we choose protons as a charge carrier? Since it is much heavier with the same charge, its current flow will produce much more work" I'm telling you positive current doesn't mean protons move. That's all. – Bob D May 19 '20 at 20:55