Could diamond batteries be the solution to our nuclear waste problem?


Nuclear (or radioactive) waste is the collective result of nuclear reactors, fuel processing plants, hospitals and research facilities which are generally dangerous to the environment and human health.

And while there are ways to store and dispose of nuclear waste, these are not always inexpensive and / or environmentally friendly options. However, turning them into diamond batteries might actually be a great, safe alternative for now.

In 2016, UK geochemists developed a way to take hazardous nuclear waste and turn it into man-made diamonds. These diamonds can generate their own electric current. With a half-life of nearly 5,800 years, these potential diamond batteries could offer solutions to waste and energy problems.

“There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct power generation,” said Tom Scott of the University of Bristol. Scott’s team effectively transforms a long-term nuclear by-product problem into a long-term solution for clean energy.

The team demonstrated a prototype diamond battery that uses nickel-63 (an unstable isotope) as a source of radiation.

The half-life of nickel-63 is approximately 100 years. Thus, the prototype holds 50 percent of its electrical charge 100 years later.

Now that the team knows nickel-63 can work, they are looking to tackle Britain’s nuclear waste piles. Between the 1950s and 1970s, British Magnox reactors used graphite to fuel nuclear reactions. However, the process made the graphite itself unstable as carbon-14. Although the country removed Magnox in 2015, the waste remains. More than 95,000 tonnes still had to be safely stored and monitored. The half-life of 5730 years means that it will be stored for a long time if no other options can be found.

“Carbon-14 was chosen as the source material because it emits short-range radiation, which is quickly absorbed by any solid material,” said researcher Neil Fox. Fox added:

“It would make it dangerous to ingest or touch with your bare skin, but safely in diamond no near-range radiation can escape. In fact, diamond is the hardest substance known to man. , there is literally nothing we can use that can offer more protection. “

However, the batteries themselves would not be used for high wattage projects. Scott said the best would be “in situations where it is not possible to charge or replace conventional batteries”.

“The obvious applications would be in low-power electrical devices where a long life of the power source is required, such as pacemakers, satellites, high-altitude drones or even spacecraft,” a- he declared.

“An AA alkaline battery weighs approximately 20 grams, has a storage energy density of 700 Joules / gram, and [uses] increase that energy if it runs continuously for about 24 hours, ”Scott said in an interview with Digital Trends. “A diamond beta battery containing 1 gram of C14 will provide 15 joules per day and continue to produce that level of output for 5,730 years – so its total energy storage rating is 2.7 teraJ.”

But that’s not all.

In September 2021, a San Francisco-based startup, Nano Diamond Battery (NDB) created a potentially revolutionary battery by combining nanodiamonds created with chemical vapor deposition, a process where gases at very high temperatures force carbon to crystallize. on a substrate material, with radioactive isotopes. from nuclear waste.

The company says these newly developed batteries could last 28,000 years. If successful, they could be used to power tablet LED screens on smartphones around the world. And as the first commercial product, NDB is reportedly working on the introduction of a smartwatch in 2022.

Reusing waste nuclear materials and putting them to good use could prove to be an ingenious and perhaps even “almost infinite” source of energy. And by that, we’re talking about thousands of tons of radioactive material that could be used to power all kinds of electronics, from pacemakers to spacecraft.

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