This new technology could solve some of the problems of nuclear waste, clean electricity generation and battery life, say scientists at the University of Bristol.
Nuclear waste is normally a by-product of nuclear power generation or nuclear technology connected with military, research or medicine. As it poses great danger to environment as well as all life forms, nuclear waste needs to be appropriately isolated and confined for a certain period of time, depending on the type of waste and the amount of radioactivity (isotopes). When stored safely, radioactive isotopes in nuclear waste can wait until they can be re-used, thus reducing the initial quantity of waste and harvesting energy for further applications.
With that in mind, a team of physicists and chemists from the University of Bristol created a diamond that can generate a small electrical current, when exposed to radiation. They are now working with carbon-14, a radioactive version of carbon, which is concentrated at the surface of the graphite blocks used to moderate the reaction in nuclear power plants. What they do is they extract the radioactive carbon-14 and incorporate it into a lab-grown diamond. And this is how they create a nuclear-powered battery.
"We envision these batteries to be used 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. There are so many possible uses that we're asking the public to come up with suggestions of how they would utilise this technology by using #diamondbattery," said Tom Scott, Professor in Materials in the University's Interface Analysis Centre and a member of the Cabot Institute.
Dr Neil Fox from the School of Chemistry further 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."
Scientists say there are currently almost 95,000 tonnes of graphite blocks in the UK. If they were to successfully extract carbon-14 from them, their radioactivity would decrease, meaning the UK would save money on storing nuclear waste, not to mention, the waste would then be much less hazardous to the living world.
Check out the video below for more information on how the nuclear diamond battery works.