For quite some time, there has been little use for nuclear waste as a source of energy. However, this has all changed recently, as scientists have now discovered a method that allows them to convert radioactive gas into artificial diamonds, which work similar to batteries.
The artificial diamonds can generate a current which can be used for what scientists believe to be thousands of years.
“There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated, and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation,” says geochemist Tom Scott from the University of Bristol in the UK.
“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.”
A prototype diamond has been demonstrated by Scott’s team which uses an unstoppable isotype of nickel as its source of radiation.
The half-life of Nickel 63 is typically 100 years, which means that the researcher’s device would hold 50% of its charge during 100 years of time.
Magnox nuclear reactors were first produced during the 1950s-1970s in the UK, and during that time, scientists used graphite blocks to sustain the nuclear reactions. This particular technique is costly.
The blocks become radioactive during the process, and in turn generate an unstable carbon isotope or carbon-14.
The last of these Magnox reactors were retired in 2015, but after decades of use, there is quite a bit of leftover byproduct left over. To be exact, there are 95,000 tonnes of these graphite blocks which will have to be stored safely, and monitored during the time they are still considered radioactive.
The half-life of carbon-14, the byproduct leftover from the nuclear reactions produced by the Magnox reactors, is a whopping 5,730 years.
This means that 2,865 years of full powered battery time would be provided by this particular byproduct, and thus it was “chosen as a source material because it emits a short-range radiation, which is quickly absorbed by any solid material,” says on of the researchers, Neil Fox.
“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,” says geochemist, Tom Scott.
“There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated, and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation,” he says.
“An alkaline AA battery weighs about 20 grams, has an energy density storage rating of 700 Joules/gram, and [uses] up this energy if operated continuously for about 24 hours,” Scott told Luke Dormehl at Digital Trends.
“A diamond beta-battery containing 1 gram of C14 will deliver 15 Joules per day, and will continue to produce this level of output for 5,730 years — so its total energy storage rating is 2.7 TeraJ.”
While the batteries are not as strong as AA batteries, they will outlast any battery that is avaibale currently. They will come in handy most in “Situations,” says Scott, “where it is not feasible to charge or replace conventional batteries.” Where exactly would this be? Pacemakers, satellites, and spacecraft are all a great start, according to Scott.