Review and Preview of Nuclear Battery Technology

For the past few years, there have been a lot of talks regarding the advancement of science and technology in terms of nuclear science and batteries. Among such batteries, the nuclear battery is one such example that is slowly growing up to the scenario. They are quite different from modern-day and traditional batteries which generate electricity from chemical reactions. Nuclear Batteries generate electricity from the radioactive diamonds that are formed from nuclear wastes.

Arkenlight, a company that is into the commercialization of the nuclear diamond battery, are already looking to develop an improved and high power density in its earliest stage itself. They are expected to create a pilot facility to mass-produce the radioactive diamond batteries. However, one should not expect the commercialized version of the battery before 2024.

Conventional batteries or Lithium-ion batteries generate electricity through chemical reactions which have an operational ability of just a few hours. And after few years, they lose their charge holding capacity and result in decreased efficiency. However, nuclear batteries can be used for longer durations, in terms of years, with high efficiency. However, they are unable to produce big packets of energy and have limited operational capacity.

When asked the company CEO, Morgan, what is the use of such batteries? He replied with the potential applications. The company is looking to use these nuclear batteries where it is impossible to regularly change the batteries. They are used in sensors, hazardous conditions like nuclear waste repositories, etc. Also, they can be used in pacemakers, wearables and other home appliances.

However, people are yet to buy the idea of keeping radioactive devices/batteries around them.  However, beta particles are used in the current batteries which are harmless when compared to that of the gamma particles. Few millimeters of shielding are enough to avoid the spreading of radiation from the batteries. When the batteries run out of power, there will be nuclear waste left in it as these would have reached a stable state.

The idea of using the beta rays for power generation is not new. It was initiated back in the 1970s but nobody had an idea of the extensive use. They were utilized in pacemakers but eventually made their way for the cost-effective Li-ion batteries.

The nuclear batteries consist of foil-shaped layers of radioactive material that are sandwiched between the semiconductors. As the material undergoes beta-decay, the high energy electrons(beta particles) are emitted which knock the electrons available in the semiconductor material. These go on to create a flow of electrons, which we term electricity.

On the other hand, the thickness of the layers matters when it comes to power generation. The power of the cell goes down spiral when a few extra microns are added up. Moreover, the beta particles hit the semiconductor materials randomly out of which few will be converted into electricity. The efficiency is as low as seven percent in nuclear batteries.

However, despite the disadvantages, nuclear batteries can last more than humans do. The radioactive isotope, C-14 has a half-life of 5700 years. These batteries can help human beings to keep things running without interruption.