Since the first generation of Magnox nuclear reactors in the UK produced during the 1950’s and up until the 1970’s were put into use, scientists have used graphite blocks to support the nuclear reactions. These graphite blocks have sustained so much radiation that they, themselves, have become radioactive and produce a radioactive isotope called carbon-14.
Until now, we haven’t had a use for this type of carbon. It’s bulky and, for all intents and purposes, considered nuclear waste.
Now, we have a new potential for this mass of carbon. Batteries.
Rewind. In recent past, scientists have begun storing radioactive gas inside of diamonds. Diamonds, as the hardest known substance, completely blockade the radiation, but allow the gas inside to produce electricity. Until now, they’ve been working with an unstable isotope of nickel, nickel-63. Nickel-63 has a half-life of 100 years, meaning that in 50 years the battery would still hold half it’s charge. And it worked.
Then, someone realized the potential of carbon-14. It has a half-life of 5,730 years, which means 2,865 years of full powered batteries and “was chosen as a source material because it emits a short-range radiation, which is quickly absorbed by any solid material,” says one of the researchers, Neil Fox.
“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,” says geochemist, Tom Scott.
“There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated, and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation,” he says.
“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 told Luke Dormehl at 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.”
This means that these radiation batteries don’t have the strong power output of a AA battery, but they’ll last much longer. “Situations,” says Scott, “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.”