Scientists turn nuclear waste into ‘diamond’ batteries that last a thousand years – Technology News, Firstpost



Although it produces huge amounts of hazardous radioactive waste that is incredibly difficult to process and dispose of, nuclear power is considered a clean energy source simply because it has no carbon dioxide emissions. Now a group of scientists may have come up with a solution to deal with nuclear waste, which could very well change battery technology as we know it today.

A prototype of Arkenlight’s carbon-14 diamond beta-voltaic battery. Image Credit: University of Bristol

In 2016, a group of researchers, physicists and chemists at the University of Bristol began work on what became known as radioactive diamond batteries. The invention they came up with was presented as a beta-voltaic device, meaning it is powered by the beta decay of nuclear waste.

Beta decay is a type of radioactive decay that occurs when the nucleus of an atom has an excess of particles and releases some of them to achieve a more stable ratio of protons to neutrons. This produces a type of ionizing radiation called beta radiation, which involves many high-speed, high-energy electrons or positrons, known as beta particles.

A typical beta-voltaic cell consists of thin layers of radioactive material placed between semiconductors. As the nuclear material decays, it emits beta particles that release electrons in the semiconductor, creating an electric current. However, the power density of the radioactive source is lower the further away from the semiconductor it is. This means that nuclear batteries are much less efficient than other types of batteries. This is where the polycrystalline diamond (PCD) comes into play.

Radioactive batteries are made through a process called chemical vapor deposition, which is widely used in the manufacture of artificial diamonds. Researchers have modified the process of growing radioactive diamonds by using radioactive methane containing the radioactive isotope Carbon-14, which is found on irradiated reactor graphite blocks. These diamonds can act as both a radioactive source and a semiconductor.

When exposed to beta radiation, you get a long-lasting battery that doesn’t require charging. The nuclear waste inside it fuels it over and over, allowing it to recharge itself for centuries, with very little to no measurable degradation over hundreds of years. Theoretically, a single battery can last for over a thousand years without needing to be replaced or recharged.

At the time of writing this piece, the battery is a working prototype that cannot be used in general purpose applications such as laptops or cell phones. Since the power it delivers is very small, its application is limited to small devices that do not consume too much power. To make it deployable on a large, commercial scale, researchers are working on technology that will allow them to develop and support the invention.

Arkenlight, an English company that markets Bristol’s radioactive diamond battery, plans to launch its first product, a microbattery for pacemakers and sensors, in the second half of 2023.

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