Battery breakthrough uses nuclear waste and man-made diamond to generate electricity

A new technology for creating batteries has been developed that might help eliminate some of the problems we have today with what to do with nuclear waste. The new battery could eliminate some of that nuclear waste while creating clean energy that can be used for many devices. The new technology involves the use of man-made diamond placed in a radioactive field.

That manufactured diamond is able to produce an electrical charge simply by being placed in close proximity to a radioactive source. Tom Scott, Professor in Materials in the University's Interface Analysis Centre and a member of the Cabot Institute, said, "There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation. 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."

Scott and his team have produced a prototype diamond battery using Nickel-63 as the radiation source. The team is currently working on a significant improvement to that original prototype using carbon-14, which is radioactive version of carbon. Carbon-14 is generated in graphite blocks used for the moderation of reaction inside nuclear power plants. In those carbon blocks, the carbon-14 is located in the surface and the blocks can be processed to remove the majority of the radioactive material.

That material removed from the blocks can then be incorporated into a diamond to make a nuclear battery. There is an abundance of the graphite blocks needed for making these batteries, the UK currently has 95,000 tons of graphite blocks that can be used for extracting carbon-14. After the radioactive material is extracted, the blocks are less radioactive making it cheaper and easier to store them.

One of the diamond batteries in testing has 1g of carbon-14 and delivers 15 Joules per day of power, less than the output of a single AA battery. The upside is that the diamond battery could produce that power for 5,730 years and still be at 50% power. These batteries have potential uses in spacecraft and satellites.

Dr Neil Fox from the School of Chemistry explained, "Carbon-14 was chosen as a source material because it emits a short-range radiation, which is quickly absorbed by any solid material. 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."