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Atomic batteries – They keep being improved, but for what purpose?

The latest atomic battery can last for 100 years

We’re at it again; Russian scientists have recently developed a new type of nuclear battery. It has a predicted life span of 100 years. The results so far are quite remarkable, but what can we deduced from the continuous improvement in an area that the average person seems to know very little about? It is through this continued effort to improve on these atomic batteries that begs the question; why is this happening and in what areas can they be implemented for applicable use?

In the era of electrification, the battery has sunk up as an incredibly important ingredient. And every week there are notices about different types of technology breakthroughs. But most of the time, it is about the amelioration of lithium-ion batteries, or perhaps about an adjusted battery chemistry. These improvements carry with them a backpack of different ways that could be taken advantage of in the coming years, especially as nuclear in this question seems to be the buzz word that flies above our heads. 

What’s not better than to exemplify this process than giving concrete examples of how the average consumer is affected by having their smartphone, as an example, equipped with an atomic battery rather than the classic “lithium ion cell” that has been industry standard since the inception of modern electronic equipment. Before we move on, it’s important to note that batteries have been powered by radioactive materials for more than a century. Woosh. Breathe out, and don’t be alarmed. Yet. 

While smartphone users will not have an extreme privilege to only be able to charge their phones once every 100 years, we’re not far off yet as nanotechnology keeps pushing the boundaries in terms of size and compactness. There’s also been a lot of overlap between the two research fields that have weighed the differences and made the case for one or the other, lithium-ion versus atomic and well, in Russia, one has researched the other – and thus the prototype design of a nuclear battery will last for 100 years is more than welcome in this question. 

Let’s get into specifics.

The batteries contain nickel-63 isotopes and, according to researchers, have an energy density of 3 300 mWh per gram. It’s a lot better than previously used nuclear batteries – and a figure that also counts the specific energy in today’s batteries. The research has been published in the Diamond and Related Materials journal.

The atomic battery is in itself no new invention. The British Henry Moseley warned about it already in 1913 and after World War II,  then it was modernized when semiconductors were introduced into the design itself. But now it has become so that it, at least in theory, begins to become interesting as an alternative to galvanic cells.

The great advantage of nuclear batteries is that their life is enormously much longer. The radioactive isotope has a half-life of 100 years (!) However, it does remain a big challenge economically;
In the prototype battery, 200 converters are used in diamond, which was added together with nickel 63 and nickel oil. The battery that had been built had a power of 1 microwat, with an energy density of 10 microwatts per cubic centimeter, enough for a pacemaker. It sounds like an extremely large amount, but the big challenge in this question is to get an economically sustainable process.

Technology itself has always been important from an economic perspective. High quality diamond substrates are incredibly expensive and it is therefore not possible to mass-produce converters.

The atomic battery can be used for cardiac stimulation or in space. The researchers similarly think that the batteries are suitable for sensitive applications, where a battery replacement is risky or impossible. For example, in pacemakers – or on a spacecraft. Will we see NASA keeping a keen interest in these batteries? Well, they’ve already started researching them extensively themselves.

However, this is not the first Russian nuclear battery. MIPT showed a prototype of a beta-based battery based on nickel-63 in 2016. University of Bristol also researches nuclear bombs using diamond and nickel-63.

But why have the nuclear batteries not become reality? According to MIPT, nickel-63 is a shortage and there are no enrichment facilities. However, plans are being made for industrial manufacturing until the mid-2020s.

Now scientists hope they can improve their batteries “by at least one factor in three”. When or if the Russian research is transformed into real battery products, it remains to be seen. 

Evolvera – always changing, always evolving.

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