Science

A nuclear battery the size and thickness of a penny

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They might sound dangerous, but nuclear batteries have been safely powering devices such as pace-makers, satellites and underwater systems for years. They have an extremely long life and high energy density compared to chemical batteries. However, they are costly and also very large and heavy. Now researchers at the University of Missouri (MU) are developing a nuclear battery that is smaller, lighter and more efficient.

Jae Kwon, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at MU, who has been working on building a small nuclear battery, admits that people get the wrong idea when they hear the term "nuclear battery" and think of something hazardous. Although nuclear batteries generate electricity from atomic energy like nuclear reactors, they don't use a chain reaction, instead using the emissions from a radioactive isotope to generate electricity. So there's no risk of the battery in a pace-maker suffering a meltdown.

The battery being developed by Kwon and his research team is currently the size and thickness of a penny, and is intended to power various micro/nanoelectromechanical systems (M/NEMS). The team's innovation is not only in the battery's size, but also in its semiconductor, which is liquid rather than solid.

"The critical part of using a radioactive battery is that when you harvest the energy, part of the radiation energy can damage the lattice structure of the solid semiconductor," Kwon said. "By using a liquid semiconductor, we believe we can minimize that problem."

Kwon has been collaborating with J. David Robertson, chemistry professor and associate director of the MU Research Reactor, and is working to build and test the battery at the facility. In the future, they hope to increase the battery's power, shrink its size and try various other materials. Kwon said that the battery could be thinner than the thickness of human hair.

Kwon's research appears in the Journal of Applied Physics Letters and Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry.

9 comments
ryan orefice
my name is Ryan Orefice located in california ive been working on an idea for over 4 years and its alot like blis i would love to know when they got there patent and send u a copy of mine.
MrMatt
One, this is awesome. Two, wouldn't it make sense to say, show it next to a penny when it is being compared to the size and thickness of one?! Fail. :-(
Matt Bear
Of course when you say the nuclear battery is the size and thickness of a penny, it helps to put a penny in the picture, instead of a dime. ;)
lafar
Will this nuclear battery also have dangerous radioactive waste lasting several hundred thousand years like the nuclear waste of radioactive power plants?
Johnny Bones
I want one for my cell phone. I hate charging that thing. -Johnny
Heartslord
I want to be the first to mutate!!!! Oh Yeah,.. use Thorium, then it\'ll be safe in 500 years. \"Sorry honey my nuclear fluid accidentally spilled on you and there are huge tumourous lumps growing on your head. But.. my cellphone has never worked better!\"
Alex Beam
But why would you bother showing it next to the aforementioned penny when it's really the size of a quarter?
Cees Timmerman
That's cute, but how much does it power and what happens if baby eats one?
MightyCash Gerente
so, I guess that soon we we will able to power our laptops with nuclear batteries that will sustain charges for as much as 20 years without requiring any recharge. That would be a cool idea.