Scientists Develop Diamond Battery that Runs on Radiation

By Devon Drey

In December of 2016, physicists and chemists at the University of Bristol Cabot Institute in the United Kingdom posted a press release introducing a next-generation nuclear battery, one that utilizes radiation to generate electricity. This new battery could provide a means for turning radioactive waste into electricity for small or lower power devices.

These batteries can be used as a simpler alternative to RTGs (radioactive thermoelectric generators), which convert heat generated by the radioactive decay of elements (like plutonium) into electricity by using thermocouples. Man-made diamond batteries produce electricity just by being close to a radioactive source. As radiation interacts with the diamond, it creates electron-hole pairs which allow for electric current flow.  “There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation.  By encapsulating radioactive material inside diamonds, we turn a long-term problem of nuclear waste into a nuclear-powered battery and a long-term supply of clean energy,” says Tom Scott, Professor of Materials at the Cabot Institute.

The first prototype utilized Ni-63 as the primary source of radiation, but current development aims at using C-14 to improve the efficiency of the battery and to utilize the 95,000 tons of spent graphite blocks generated to date by reactors in the United Kingdom. Researchers discovered that the C-14 mostly exists in the outer layer of the spent graphite blocks, enabling extraction of the C-14 by heating the blocks and gasifying the outer layers. Following gasification, the C-14 gas is compressed into diamonds and wrapped in a nonradioactive layer of C-12 diamond, containing the C-14 and its radiation.

One gram of C-14 diamond can produce 15 joules of energy per day with a 5700 year half-life, a 20 gram alkaline battery can produce up to 700 joules per day for its one day lifetime, and one gram of Pu-238 RTG can produce 2500 joules per day with a half-life of 87.7 years. Professor Scott added: “We envision these batteries to be used in situations where it is not feasible to charge or replace conventional batteries. Obvious applications would be in low-power electrical devices where long life of the energy source is needed, such as pacemakers, satellites, high-altitude drones or even spacecraft.” There are so many possible applications that the researchers created a twitter hashtag (#diamondbattery) where people can tweet them suggestions. To see more ideas suggested by everyday people, go to https://cabot-institute.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/the-diamond-battery-your-ideas-for.html.

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