Depending on the radioactive isotope, may take about 5,730 years to reach 50% capacity



Nuclear waste disposal continues to elude scientists; the challenge isn’t only
a matter of figuring out where to discard radioactive material, but how to
extract and recycle valuable substances. Physicists and chemists from the
University of Bristol have found a way to convert tons of nuclear waste into human-made diamond batteries that can generate a small electric current for longer
than 5,730 years.

The innovative technology was
presented on Friday, November 25th at the Cabot Institute’s
sold-out annual lecture, “Ideas to change the world.” Unlike other
electricity-generating tech solutions, the human-made
diamond battery doesn’t move a magnet through a coil of wire to generate
current; instead, it produces a charge simply by being placed in proximity to a
radioactive source. As a result, the diamond battery lacks moving parts, gives
off no emissions, and is maintenance-free.

Tom Scott,
Professor in Materials in the University’s Interface
Analysis Centre
and a member of the Cabot Institute, said: “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

Tons of potential
With the number of aging first-generation reactors waiting for decommissioning, there is a huge abundance of radioactive materials with battery-forming
potential. This notion holds especially
true when considering that nuclear waste removal isn’t the top priority, but
rather devising a long-term storage strategy that grants continued access valuable
radioactive isotopes needed in industry
and medicine, or may have potential energy generation

England’s first generation reactors contain an abundance of radioactive
material ripe for diamond batteries, accumulating
over 104,720 tons of radioactive graphite blocks. After decades of
exposure, the radioactive graphite blocks surrounding the fuel rods changed
some of the inert carbon into radioactive carbon-14, a low-yield beta particle
that cannot penetrate beyond a few centimeters of air, but is too dangerous to
release into the environment. By removing most of the carbon-14 from the
graphite blocks, the Bristol team believe they can successfully transform it
into electrify-generating diamonds.

How’s it made?
Discovering that carbon-14 wasn’t uniformly distributed in the graphite blocks,
the team first heated the blocks to drive out the isotope from the radioactive
end. Next, low pressure and high temperature were applied to compress the gas
into a human-made diamond. The resulting
diamond’s crystal lattice then interacts with the beta particles emitted by the
carbon-14, throwing off electrons and generating electricity. Because the
diamonds become radioactive, they are given a second non-radioactive diamond
coating to function as a radiation shield.

“Carbon-14 was chosen as a source material because it emits
a short-range radiation, which is quickly absorbed by any solid material,”
says Neil Fox from the School of Chemistry. “This would make it dangerous
to ingest or touch with your naked skin, but safely held within the diamond, no short-range radiation can escape.
In fact, diamond is the hardest substance known to man; there is nothing we could use that could offer more

An earlier prototype diamond battery was constructed using the
isotope nickel-63, but the team plans on incorporating carbon-14 as it’s
significantly more efficient, retaining 50 percent of its capacity after 5,730
years. Despite their low-power relative to
contemporary batteries, the long lifespan of diamond batteries may revolutionize
low-power devices like pacemakers, high-altitude drones, and satellites in the long term. Scientists haven’t
yet finalized the amount of carbon-14 in each battery, but one battery
containing 1g of carbon-14 delivers about 15 Joules per day.

 Source: Newatlas
via Bristol