A nuclear battery that never needs charging?


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A California company, NDB (which stands for nuclear diamond battery), is developing a nuclear battery using waste products from nuclear power plants that will never need charging and will be able to replace almost any ordinary battery, from those used in computers and smart phones to AA and AAA batteries.

The heart of each cell is a small piece of recycled nuclear waste. NDB uses graphite nuclear reactor parts that have absorbed radiation from nuclear fuel rods and have themselves become radioactive. Untreated, it’s high-grade nuclear waste: dangerous, difficult and expensive to store, with a very long half-life.

This graphite is rich in the carbon-14 radioisotope, which undergoes beta decay into nitrogen, releasing an anti-neutrino and a beta decay electron in the process. NDB takes this graphite, purifies it and uses it to create tiny carbon-14 diamonds. The diamond structure acts as a semiconductor and heat sink, collecting the charge and transporting it out. Completely encasing the radioactive carbon-14 diamond is a layer of cheap, non-radioactive, lab-created carbon-12 diamond, which contains the energetic particles, prevents radiation leaks and acts as a super-hard protective and tamper-proof layer.

To create a battery cell, several layers of this nano-diamond material are stacked up and stored with a tiny integrated circuit board and a small supercapacitor to collect, store and instantly distribute the charge. NDB says it’ll conform to any shape or standard, including AA, AAA, 18650, 2170 or all manner of custom sizes.

The company says it has already built a proof-of-concept, and will begin building commercial prototypes as soon as it can reopen (they were shuttered by the Wuhan flu panic).

More at the link. Also see the video below the fold. To say this technology would be game-changing is an understatement of epic proportions. At the same time, a lot of difficult work will be required to make it practical and affordable. Don’t expect this to be available in stores for at least a few years.

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26 comments

  • James Street

    Wow, thanks for the article. Realistic alternative power sources fascinate me. I follow nuclear fusion news but unfortunately that, like space, is a jobs program with success always 15 years in the future.

  • sippin_bourbon

    I want a Tesla (or other electric car) powered by these…
    Never need to stop or charge again.

    (sarcasm… I can imagine the cost would be prohibitive).

    Will they be better and safer than RTGs?

  • Call Me Ishmael

    “… a lot of difficult work will be required to make it practical and affordable.”

    And a lot more will be needed to get it past the “Radioactive! AAIIIEEEEEEE!!!!!” crowd.

  • Let me be the first to say:

    Shipstone.

  • commodude

    Jeffersonian:

    Heinlein also warned against putting spent fuel/radioactive waste out of reach for this very reason. You never know what might be able to be done with it.

  • Joe

    Something like this could be useful in picosat technology. I keep looking for better ways to power the sats. This would work. Deep space sats would be a near perfect use case.

  • Jay

    Talking about two subjects I like: battery technology and nuclear power. I worked on battery technology in the late 90’s before some fat lecherous hillbilly president canceled my research program. My question is about energy density, kw-hr/kg, nothing is disclosed yet and they are still working on scalability.
    They show the Tesla Roadster, I am familiar with their AC drive system in it because it was sold widely by A.C. Propulsion Systems in San Dimas CA. I remember the earlier AC-150 system drawing over 500 amps from the batteries and I am willing to bet the AC drive Tesla uses probably draws 1000 amps in its “Ludicrous” speed mode. Will the battery be big enough to supply enough high current? That is my question.
    It might be good for low current applications like cubesats, beacons, and other communication technologies.

    On to the nuclear side. As Sippin_bourbon was talking about the RTGs and he is right. I know our RTGs use Plutonium-238 and we get the heat from alpha decay, converted to electricty by piezo-electric quartz, for a half-life of about 80 years. The enclosure of the NDB in carbon-12 reminds me of the glass mixture that is used to encase waste. They better make that NDB tough with a beta decay product.

  • John

    Jay- I’m not a nuclear engineer but I don’t see how RTGs would use piezoelectric materials.

    This is a very interesting concept and technology. They claim any radioactive material is safely encapsulated in diamonds. It sounds like it would be very hard to get to any dangerous material, but nothing is impossible and people will find a way. Diamonds can cut diamonds and diamond cutters are available. They say a bad actor couldn’t get the material in a form that is useful, but all that has to happen is for the the public to get terrorized with some threats and radiation detected near a school.

    So I doubt regulators would allow it in mass produced consumer devices. A more likely application might be replacing RTGs or, depending on how much energy it can produce, competing with something like the small fission reactor that Los Alamos developed (that I think was posted here on BtB).

    It would be great to have forever batteries though.

  • Spectrum Shift

    I’m surprised this company resides in California hoping to evade the classic phrase “The state of California has determined this product can cause cancer”. That leaves 56 states (hat tip Obama) to market nuke batteries. Nukbats for short.

  • sippin_bourbon

    I do not know if piezoelectrics are used in RTGs. But thermal generators are.
    They create electricity from the temperature imbalance, called the Seeback effect.

    Fun description of them.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xY06PT5JDE
    14:36
    Electroboom discusses thermo electric generators.

  • Jay

    Yep, I stand corrected on the RTGs, it is thermoelectric not piezoelectric, and using thermocouples not quartz. Sorry, I do electrical engineering… I must have crystal oscillators on the brain.

  • Get the hell out of California before they make making a profit illegal. If they haven’t already.

  • Phill O

    As a devils advocate and knowing how the left distorts facts, I can see the attacking the combustible nature of diamonds for the release of C14, a naturally occurring nuclide. One would have to warn that these batteries may not be incinerated.

    In-fact, the lefts attacks on anything nuclear is one of the reasons I got out of the field.

    However, I sure like this idea!

    Reprocessing of graphite really enhances the use of radio tracers in environmental and medical research.

  • jbspry

    How do you keep these batteries out of landfills?
    Without a tightly controlled waste disposal/return regime in place, there will inevitably be a creeping spread of nuclear waste throughout the country as batteries are discarded, lost and deliberately damaged.
    Consider how many mercury-based light bulbs get thrown in the trash can instead of disposed of as toxic waste.

  • RNB

    If only we had collapsium to plate the batteries with! (Hat tip: H. Beam Piper.)

  • Jay

    So how to handle disposal is always a question. Here is an idea to throw out – one way to address this is to look at the lead acid car battery. We, the U.S., have been recycling lead acid batteries since 1972. When we buy a new car battery, we pay a core charge, and return the old one to get the deposit back. Why not apply it to this NDB as well?
    Considering the supposed long life of the cell/battery and the nature of the material, there would be a huge core charge up front to motivate the user to trade in the used one after x amount of years to buy a replacement at a cheaper price. That is one way to fight against the disposal in landfills.
    I did not see it on the video, maybe I missed it, will they reprocess the old material to make new ones and dispose of the unusable material at Yucca (or Hanford or wherever) for storage.

  • Dave Peters

    Atomic batteries to power. Turbines to speed!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRoeTzvuI14

  • Max

    ” How do you keep these batteries out of landfills? ”

    Are you kidding? The most expensive diamonds ever created with a half-life of thousands of years powering objects longer than humans have been walking will be worth millions Per unit. Landfill full of diamonds will not be a problem, in fact a non-exhaustible consumer products will prevent items going to the landfill. If anything, it’ll provide the cheap energy from “atomic sources” is that we’ve been promised for 70 years. Enough energy to remove and recycle all landfills on earth…
    OK, I’m just dreaming. The purpose of politicians is to provide themselves with permanent importance by not solving problems. That’s why Bob promotes private solutions because no government agency will purposely work themselves out of a job, but will find a way to increase their pay by increasing the size of the problem and keep it going for generations even though a solution is at hand. If any problem is solved and their job is no longer needed, then a problem that doesn’t exist will be created like global warming, or a war.

    Galen Windsor, a nuclear engineer that pioneered the nuclear energy industry, describes political solutions to nonexistent problems with the intent of controlling the most energy dense material on earth. Whistle blower from the VHS days.
    https://atomicinsights.com/galen-winsor-asks-who-owns-the-plutonium-how-much-is-it-worth/
    His videos are becoming hard to find being scrubbed from the Internet. He does things not thought possible with radioactive materials. He will make you question, with logic, everything you think you know about nuclear materials.
    He also was part of the investigation into the 3 mile accident that he determined to be intentional sabotage to induce fear for the purposes of propaganda.

    Self charging batteries are only the stuff of science fiction. Light saber, die lithium batteries, ancient active space defense weapons platforms from prior civilization, zero point energy modules that power entire cities type of stuff…
    It’s hard to imagine that it might be possible in our lifetime, inexhaustible energy source will truly make the entire solar system at our fingertips.

    The best part is they’re using carbon 14 which is everywhere in nature, including a considerable amount of the carbon in your own body.
    Should someone with evil intent place a double A battery in a shotgun to force it open with kinetic energy, the shards will still be too heavy to be carried in the air and can be easily cleaned/vacuumed up. Minimal protection clothing will be needed.

  • Ed

    This is a joke, right? Or a hoax? Maybe I messed up my calculations, but 1kg of pure C14 will produce about 4 Watts of decay energy.

  • Jay

    Ed,
    Was that 4 watts/sec?

  • Ed, you are right. It’s a scam. Their website is big on “how to invest” and very light on “how it works.”

    However your calculations are a bit off. It’s worse than you said: 1kg pure C14 would produce about 1W of decay energy.

    If you could somehow harness all the electrons being produced by beta decay, the current is 0.022mA. A typical AA battery will produce 50mA current. So you’d need 2,300 kg of your C14 “batteries” to equal a single AA.

    And that’s assuming they can produce pure C14.

  • Cotour

    I suppose if the Zman can post this “Nuclear battery” “Technology” I will have to remind everyone of this, the ECAT.

    https://youtu.be/GJz0T7lCWRg

    This has been around now for several years and apparently through a phenomenon identified by Rossi it is still pumping out more energy than it uses. (?)

  • wayne

    Steve/Ed–
    visited their website— feels like a scam to me.

  • Gealon

    Smells like a scam to me. Beta decay batteries have been around for years. If memory serves they used to be used in pacemakers and barely had the output of your average watch battery. There is no way they could power a car unless the car it’s self was made of the things. And let’s not start on heat dissipation.

  • Their California headquarters are empty office space available for lease. Linked-in profiles are new. Website links are mostly dead, Laboratories is “Labratories” on their site. Investment scam. Sad to see the speed at which numerous news agencies and other outlets pick up this garbage.

  • Slicingonions: I have to admit I picked this story up too quickly. Normally I question such things, but this seemed too reasonable, at first look. My readers have made me very doubtful about it. I would not have linked to it with what I know now.

    My one excuse is my unfailing desire to be optimistic. If this worked, the potential was staggering.

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