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Batteries that last forever?


An article from TechWatch Edition 5

Some recent announcements by industry and academia concern novel battery technologies that use radioactive material to generate power for enormous time-scales; decades or even thousands of years.

In the first case, scientists at Russia’s National University of Science and Technology (NUST) MISiS have announced a compact nuclear battery that can last for up to 20 years. This is a ‘BetaVoltaic’ battery, which generates electric current from beta particles (electrons) emitted from a radioactive source. Such batteries are well known, but the MISiS battery claims to have improved the state-of-the-art, offering a compact battery with increased energy storage and a longer lifetime.

The second case concerns NDB (Nano Diamond Battery) Inc., a Californian start-up, who claim to have achieved a proof of concept for a revolutionary battery that could last for thousands of years. This battery appears similar to the Russian BetaVoltaic battery, in that it uses high-energy electrons from radioactive sources, but is still very much in its early development stages. NDB’s technology is a little different, exploiting diamond as a means to capture energy from radiation before generating electricity. The company expects the development of the first prototype nano-diamond battery to be completed in 2020.

While such developments are exciting, it is worth noting that the current state-of-the-art yields a very low power output, several orders of magnitude less than a solar cell, for example. In addition, the use of highly radioactive isotopes will certainly cause headaches when it comes to radioactive legislation, no doubt limiting the applications for such batteries. Nevertheless, one can see them being useful in places that are hard-to-reach or are virtually inaccessible, such as in space, at high-altitude or underwater.

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