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Radioactive Diamond Batteries That Last for Thousands of Years

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2020

A pair of researchers from the University of Bristol have formed a company called Arkenlight to try to make diamond batteries out of nuclear waste that can potentially power devices for thousands of years. The betavoltaic batteries work by releasing beta radiation, which excites semiconductor material to produce electricity. These types of batteries don’t put out much power — they can’t replace your iPhone battery for example — but they do their thing for a loooong time.

Arkenlight is focused on creating batteries that have a diamond-like structure out of irradiated graphite, which is quite common.

But that’s where a radioactive isotope called carbon-14 may be able to help. Best known for its role in radiocarbon dating, which allows archaeologists to estimate the age of ancient artifacts, it can provide a boost to nuclear batteries because it can function both as a radioactive source and a semiconductor. It also has a half-life of 5,700 years, which means a carbon-14 nuclear battery could, in principle, power an electronic device for longer than humans have had written language.

I mean, it’s little more than a theory at this point so maybe it won’t be feasible after all, but what a brilliant idea: combining the radioactive source and the semiconductor (thereby upping the efficiency) and using nuclear waste to build the whole thing. Science at its most poetically useful. (via geoff manaugh)