There is now a real possibility of your next mobile device or automobile to be powered by a nuclear power source instead of lithium-ion cell. This is all thanks to the University of Missouri’s researchers and scientists. However this is bad news to anyone who values you’re health and is hell for those who think WiFi signals are bad for you. As carrying a portable nuclear reactor in your pocket has no dangerous factors at all….. right?
However lets eliminate the impossible, you aren’t carrying a fission reactor in your pocket, instead this is a battery developed by Baek Kim and Jae Kwon which uses a process called betavoltatic to generate the electricity needed to power a device.The betavotlatic device is fairly similar to a photovoltaic device which is used in all solar energy harvesting technologies. Instead of harvesting the energy within the photons from the sun this device will harvest the energy from beta-radiation.
“thing to know – Radiation is very high energy electrons that are emitted from a radioactive material.”
The betavoltaic device is constructed the same way as a photovoltaic one with the same functionality but a different medium is used, with a piece of semiconductor material (such as silicon) compressed between two electrodes. Here the radiation emitted creates a potential difference across the semiconductor material, this in turn allows a voltage to flow carrying a small current.
Most of us wouldn’t even comprehend the thought of a piece of radioactive material in our pockets and run for the hills at the very thought, but what we didn’t know is that this type radiation can be very easily blocked safely with a sheet of aluminum wrapped around it.
Its radiation like gamma which we need to look out for which requires a large amount of lead (or other dense metal) to be blocked safely. This doesn’t make beta-radiation any safer as long exposure will kill you, it’s just much easier to control. The new battery created here consists of a platinum coated titanium dioxide electrode, water, and a piece of the material (radioactive) called Strontium (90). Strontium (Sr-90) has a half-life decay of around 28.79 years, this slow decay produces:
- A electron
- yttrium-90 (Y-90)
Y- 90 has a half-life of around 64 hours, which decays into more electrons and anti-neutrinos and zirconium (which is a stable element). The best thing about strontium-90 is that it emits no gamma radiation, and in the terms of radioactive materials this makes it very good on the safe chart.
An interesting fact of betavoltaics is that before the introduction of lithium-ion batteries this was used in pacemakers! The researchers here proclaim that their addition of water into the mix is the key breakthrough they needed, as water does not only absorb a large amount of the radiation, ( In high enough quantities it can actually damage the betavoltaic semiconductor) it reacts with the beta-radiation as its splits the water molecules producing electricity.
“Water acts as a buffer and surface plasmons created in the device turned out to be very useful in increasing its efficiency”, Kwon goes on to say ““The ionic solution is not easily frozen at very low temperatures and could work in a wide variety of applications, including car batteries and, if packaged properly, perhaps spacecraft.”
To see their research go to the link below:
[Research paper: doi:10.1038/srep05249 – “Plasmon-assisted radiolytic energy conversion in aqueous solutions”]
This new form of battery will most likely never be used in the commercial devices, for obvious reasons. But the fact that this type of technology exists is exciting as is another step in the direction of batteries that will never need charging, which would benefit is all!