Posted in | Battery | Energy Efficiency

New Man-Made Diamond Capable of Producing Small Electrical Current

(Credit: University of Bristol)

A new technology that uses nuclear waste in order to generate electricity in a nuclear-powered battery has been developed.

A team of chemists and physicists from the University of Bristol have grown a man-made diamond capable of generating a small electrical current when placed in a radioactive field. This new development will be able to solve a few of the problems of nuclear waste, battery life and clean electricity generation.

This novel method for radioactive energy was presented, on Friday, 25 November, at the Cabot Institute’s sold-out annual lecture - ‘Ideas to change the world’.

Most electricity-generation technologies use energy to move a magnet through a coil of wire to produce a current. However, unlike these technologies, the man-made diamond is capable of generating a charge by just 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. 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.

Tom Scott, Professor, University of Bristol

The team of physicists and chemists used Nickel-63 as the radiation source and demonstrated a prototype ‘diamond battery’. Carbon-14, a radioactive version of carbon, is currently being used by the team in order to enhance the efficiency. Carbon-14 is produced in graphite blocks used to moderate the reaction in nuclear power plants.

Research conducted by academics at Bristol has proven that the radioactive carbon-14 is concentrated at the surface of these blocks, resulting in the possibility of processing it and removing most of the radioactive material. The carbon-14 that is extracted is then integrated into a diamond to develop a nuclear-powered battery.

Currently, the UK holds approximately 95,000 tons of graphite blocks and the extraction of carbon-14 from them results in decreasing carbon-14 and also the cost and challenge safely storing this nuclear waste.

Carbon-14 was chosen as a source material because it emits a short-range radiation, which is quickly absorbed by any solid material. 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.

Dr Neil Fox, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol

Regardless of their low-power, relative to existing battery technologies, the life-time of these diamond batteries could change the powering of devices over long timescales. The battery using carbon-14 would take 5,730 years to reach 50% power, which is almost as long as the existence of human civilization.

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 uses that we’re asking the public to come up with suggestions of how they would utilize this technology by using #diamondbattery.

Tom Scott, Professor, University of Bristol

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