Geochemists from the UK developed a way to take dangerous nuclear waste and turn it into artificial 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 both waste and energy issues.
"There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated, and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation," said Tom Scott from the University of Bristol in the UK. Scott's team effectively turns a long-term problem of nuclear byproduct into a long-term solution for clean energy.
[Image courtesy of Pixabay]
The team demonstrated a prototype diamond battery that uses nickel-63 (an unstable isotope) as its radiation source.
Nickel-63's half life is roughly 100 years. Thus, the prototype holds 50 percent of it's electrical charge 100 years later.
Now that the team knows nickel-63 can work, they're looking to take on the piles of Britain's nuclear waste. Between the 1950s to the 1970s, the UK's Magnox reactors used graphite to sustain nuclear reactions. However, the process made the graphite itself unstable as carbon-14. Though the country retired Magnox in 2015, the waste remains. Over 95,000 tonnes still needed to be safely stored and monitored. The half-life of 5,730 years means it will be stored a long time if no other option can be found.
[Image use through Creative Commons/Wikipedia]
The team wishes to repurpose the material and put it to good use.
"Carbon–14 was chosen as a source material because it emits a short-range radiation, which is quickly absorbed by any solid material," said researcher Neil Fox. Fox added:
"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."
The batteries themselves wouldn't be used for high-power projects, however. Scott said the best would be "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," he said.
Formal research hasn't been published yet by the team. However, they have an idea of the scope of the batteries' power emission.
"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 said in an interview with 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."
The team wants to generate as many possible uses for these batteries as they can. They've reached out to the public to use #diamondbattery to generate creative uses for the project.
The University of Bristol created this simple, informative, and animated explanation of the project in the video below: