The University of Bristol in southwest England has developed an artificial diamond that generates electricity when placed in a radioactive field.
The technology is unusual because unlike conventional generators the diamond does not have to be moved to create a flow of electrons. This creates the possibility of batteries that could last for thousands of years without needed to be recharged. Â
Tom Scott, a professor of materials science at the university’s Interface Analysis Centre, said: "There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation.
"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."
The research team from the university’s cross-disciplinary Cabot Institute have demonstrated a prototype battery using Nickel-63 as the radiation source. They are now working to improve efficiency by using carbon-14, a radioactive isotope that is generated in the graphite blocks used to control reaction speed in nuclear power plants.
The team has found that carbon-14 is concentrated at the surface of these blocks, making it possible to extract it for use in a diamond battery.
Neil Fox, a researcher from the School of Chemistry, said C-14 was chosen as a source material because it emits a short-range radiation that could not escape from the diamond. He said: "Diamond is the hardest substance known to man, so there is literally nothing we could use that could offer more protection."
The half-life of C-14 is 5,730 years, so a battery made from the isotope would last more or less forever. Scott said: "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."
A video explaining the technology can be viewed here.
Image: Batteries are made by putting a radioactive diamond inside a non-radioactive one (Goldworks)