Scientists have developed a new technology that uses nuclear waste to generate clean electricity in a nuclear-powered battery. Researchers from the University of Bristol in the UK have grown a man-made diamond that, when placed in a radioactive field, is able to generate a small electrical current.
The development could solve some of the problems of nuclear waste, clean electricity generation and battery life, researchers said.
Unlike the majority of electricity-generation technologies, which use energy to move a magnet through a coil of wire to generate a current, the man-made diamond is able to produce a charge simply by being placed in close proximity to a radioactive source. “There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation,” said Tom Scott, Professor in the university’s Interface Analysis Centre.
“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,” said Scott.
The team has demonstrated a prototype ‘diamond battery’ using Nickel-63 as the radiation source. However, they are now working to significantly improve efficiency by utilising carbon-14, a radioactive version of carbon, which is generated in graphite blocks used to moderate the reaction in nuclear power plants.
Research by academics at Bristol has shown that the radioactive carbon-14 is concentrated at the surface of these blocks, making it possible to process it to remove the majority of the radioactive material.
“The extracted carbon-14 is then incorporated into a diamond to produce a nuclear-powered battery. Carbon-14 was chosen as a source material because it emits a short-range radiation, which is quickly absorbed by any solid material,” said Neil Fox from the School of Chemistry.
“This would make it dangerous to ingest or touch with your naked skin, but safely held within diamond, no short-range radiation can escape. In fact, diamond is the hardest substance known to man, there is literally nothing we could use that could offer more protection,” said Fox.
Despite their low-power, relative to current battery technologies, the life-time of these diamond batteries could revolutionize the powering of devices over long timescales. Using carbon-14 the battery would take 5,730 years to reach 50 per cent power, which is about as long as human civilisation has existed. “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,” Scott said.