Scientists turn nuclear waste into ‘diamond’ batteries that can last a thousand years

Although it produces massive amounts of hazardous radioactive waste that is incredibly difficult to process and dispose of, the nuclear energy is considered a clean energy source, simply because it has zero carbon dioxide emissions. Now a group of scientists has potentially reach a solution to deal with nuclear waste, that may very well change battery technology as we know it today.

A prototype of Arkenlight’s carbon-14 diamond betavoltaic battery. Image credit: University of Bristol In 2016, a group of researchers, physicists and chemists from the University of Bristol began work on what became known as radioactive diamond batteries.

The invention they came up with was presented as a betavoltaic device, which means that it works with 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 get a more stable ratio of protons to neutrons. This produces a type of ionizing radiation called beta radiation, which involves a large number of high-speed, high-energy electrons or positrons known as beta particles.

A typical betavoltaic cell consists of thin layers of radioactive material sandwiched between semiconductors. As nuclear material decays, it emits beta particles that release electrons into the semiconductor, creating an electrical current. However, the power density of the radioactive source is lower the farther it is from the semiconductor.

This means that nuclear batteries are much less efficient than other types of batteries. This is where polycrystalline diamond (PCD) comes in. Radioactive batteries are made through a process called chemical vapor deposition, which is widely used to make artificial diamonds. Researchers have modified the process to grow radioactive diamonds by using radioactive methane containing the radioactive isotope Carbon-14, found in the irradiated graphite reactor blocks.

These diamonds can act both as a radioactive source and as a semiconductor. When exposed to beta radiation, you’ll get a long-lasting battery that doesn’t need to be recharged. The nuclear waste inside it feeds it over and over again, allowing it to charge itself for years, with little to no measurable degradation over hundreds of years. In theory, a single battery can be used for more than a thousand years, without having to be replaced or recharged.

At the time of writing this article, the battery is a working prototype that cannot be used in common applications such as laptops or cell phones. Due to the fact that the power it provides is very little, its application is limited to small devices that do not consume much energy. To make it implementable on a large commercial scale, the researchers are working on a technology that will allow them to develop and maintain the invention. Arkenlight, an English company that markets the Bristol radioactive diamond battery, plans to bring its first product, a micro-battery for pacemakers and sensors, to market by the end of 2023. Via: FirstPost