A team of physicists and chemists at the University of Bristol have developed a new type of battery that could change the way we think of long-term energy storage and electricity generation. The researchers looked at the problem of nuclear waste and came up with a battery that uses a man-made diamond to turn that waste into nuclear energy without fear of contamination.
“There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation," said Professor of Materials Tom Scott. "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.”
The team has previously developed a working prototype using Nickel-63, but is now working on improving efficiency by using carbon-14, a radioactive version of carbon, that is found in the graphite blocks used to moderate nuclear reactions in nuclear power plants. In the UK alone there are 95,000 tons of these graphite blocks containing high concentrations of carbon-14. The carbon-14 can be extracted from these blocks and then turned into a man-made diamond, safely storing the nuclear waste as well as creating 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 Dr. Neil Fox, professor in 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.”
The diamond battery is low power compared to conventional batteries, but could do something that no battery before it has: last thousands of years. The scientists at University of Bristol say that with carbon-14 as the radiation source, it would take 5,730 years for it to reach 50 percent power.
That type of lifetime would make these batteries well-suited for applications where a constant power source is needed but it is difficult to replace or charge batteries once they're installed -- think environmental and structural sensors, pacemakers, satellites, spacecraft and much more. The scientists say the list of potential uses is so vast, they're taking suggestions from the public. You can share your ideas on social media using the hashtag #diamondbattery.
You can watch a video explaining the nuclear diamond battery below.