Are Radioactive Diamond Batteries the Solution to Nuclear Waste? – Interesting Engineering

Nuclear power is considered a clean energy source because it has zero carbon dioxide emissions; yet, at the same time, it produces massive amounts of hazardous, radioactive waste that pile up asmore and more reactors are built around the world.

Experts have proposed different solutions for this issue in order to take better care of the environment and peoples health. With insufficient safe storage space for nuclear waste disposal, the focal point of these ideas is the reutilization of the materials.

Radioactive diamond batterieswere first developed in 2016 and were immediately acclaimed because they promised a new, cost-effective way of recycling nuclear waste. In this context, its unavoidable to deliberate whether theyre the ultimate solution to these toxic, lethal residues.

Radioactive diamond batteries were first developed by a team of physicists and chemists from the Cabot Institute for the Environment of the University of Bristol. The invention was presented as a betavoltaic device, which means that its powered by the beta decay of nuclear waste.

Beta decay is a type of radioactive decay that occurs when an atoms nucleus has an excess of particles and releases some of them to obtain a more stable ratio of protons to neutrons. This produces a kind of ionizing radiation called beta radiation, which involves a lot of high-speed and high-energy electrons or positrons known as beta particles.

Beta particles contain nuclear energy that can be converted into electric energy through a semiconductor.

A typical betavoltaic cell consists of thin layers of radioactive material placed between semiconductors. As the nuclear material decays, it emits beta particles that knock electrons loose in the semiconductor, creating an electric current.

However, the power density of the radioactive source is lower the further it is from the semiconductor. On top of this, because beta particles are randomly emitted in all directions, only a small number of them will hit the semiconductor, and only a small number of those will be converted into electricity. This means that nuclear batteries are much less efficient than other types of batteries.This is where the polycrystalline diamond (PCD) comes in.

The radioactive diamond batteries are made using a process called chemical vapor deposition, which is widely used for artificial diamond manufacture. It uses a mixture of hydrogen and methane plasma to grow diamond films at very high temperatures. Researchers havemodified the CVD process to grow radioactive diamonds by using a radioactive methane containing the radioactive isotope Carbon-14, which is found on irradiated reactor graphite blocks.

Diamond is one of the hardest materials that humanity knows its even harder than silicon carbide. And itcan act as both a radioactive sourceanda semiconductor. Expose it to beta radiation and youll get a long-duration battery that doesnt need to be recharged. The nuclear waste in its interior fuels it over and over again, allowing it to self-charge for ages.

However, the Bristol team warned that their radioactive diamond batteries wouldnt be suitable for laptops or smartphones, because they contain only 1g of carbon-14, meaning that they provide very low power only a few microwatts, which is less than a typical AA battery. Therefore, their application so far is limited to small devices that must stay unattended for a long time, such as sensors and pacemakers.

The origins of nuclear batteries can be traced back to 1913, when English physicist Henry Moseley found out that particle radiation could generate an electric current. In the 1950s and 1960s, the aerospace industry was very interested in Moseleys discovery, as it could potentially power spacecraft for long-duration missions. The RCA Corporation also researched an application for nuclear batteries in radio receivers and hearing aids.

But other technologies were needed in order to develop and sustain the invention. In this regard, the usage of synthetic diamonds is seen as revolutionary, as it provides safety and conductivity to the radioactive battery. With the addition of nanotechnology, an American company built a high-power nano-diamond battery.

Based in San Francisco, California, NDB Inc. was founded in 2012 with the objective of creating a cleaner and greener alternative to conventional batteries. The startup introduced its version of diamond-based batteries in 2016 and announced two proof-of-concept tests in 2020. Its one of the firms that is attempting to commercialize radioactive diamond batteries.

Nano-diamond batteries from NDB are described as alpha, beta, and neutron voltaic batteries and have several new features according to their website.

Nano-diamond batteries are scheduled to come onto the market in 2023.

Arkenlight, the English firm commercializing Bristols radioactive diamond battery, plans on releasing their first product, a microbattery, to the market in the latter part of 2023.

The portability of modern electronic devices, the increasing popularity of electric vehicles, and the 21st Century race to take humanity on long space missions to Mars have triggered a growing interest in battery technology research in the last few years.

Some types of batteries are more appropriate for certain applications and not as useful for others. But we can say that the conventional lithium-ion batteries that we are familiar with won't be replaced with radioactive diamond batteries any time soon.

Conventional batteries last a shorter time, but they are also much cheaper to manufacture. However, at the same time, the fact that they do not last that long (they have a lifespan of about five years) is problematic, because they also produce a great deal of electronic waste, which is not easy to recycle.

Radioactive diamond batteries are more convenient, because they have a much longer lifespan than conventional batteries. If they can be developed into a universal battery, like NDB Inc. proposes, we could end up with smartphone batteries that last much longer than the life of the smartphone, and we could simply change the battery from one phone to the next, much as we now transfer the SIM card.

However, the diamond betavoltaics developed by Arkenlight won't go that far.The company is working on designs that stack up lots of their carbon-14 betabatteries into cells. To provide high power discharge, each cell could be accompanied by a small supercapacitor, which could offer an excellent quick-discharge capability.

However, this radioactive material also has a lifespan of more than 5000 years. If that radiation were to leak out of the device ingaseous form, it could be a problem. That's where the diamonds come in. In the diamond formation, the C-14 is a solid, so it can't be extracted and absorbed by a living being.

The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) calculated that 100 pounds (approximately 45 kg) of carbon-14 could allow the fabrication of millions of long-duration diamond-based batteries. These batteries could also reduce the costs of nuclear waste storage.

University of Bristol researcher Professor Tom Scott told Nuclear Energy Insider that,By removing the Carbon-14 from irradiated graphite directly from the reactor, this would make the remaining waste products less radioactive and therefore easier to manage and dispose of. Cost estimates for disposing of the graphite waste are 46,000 pounds ($60,000) per cubic meter for Intermediate Level Waste [ILW] and 3,000 pounds ($4,000) per cubic meter for Low-Level Waste [LLW]."

Dont all these features make them one of the best options for the sustainable future that we need? Well have to wait and see if the manufacturers can find a way of dealing with production costs and low energy output, and get their diamond-based batteries onto the market cost-effectively and accessibly.

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Are Radioactive Diamond Batteries the Solution to Nuclear Waste? - Interesting Engineering

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