Researchers have found a way to use diamonds to convert nuclear waste into long-lasting batteries. A team of physicists and chemists at the University of Bristol discovered the new technology, which transforms thousands of tons of troublesome nuclear waste into lab-grown diamond batteries capable of generating a small amount of electricity. The diamond batteries, like the precious gems they are based on, could last essentially forever.
Ushering in what researchers are calling the “Diamond Age” of battery power, the technology developed by the University of Bristol team uses man-made diamonds formed from nuclear waste, plus a small amount of radioactive energy, to create a low-current battery durable enough to outlast human civilization. The team unveiled their discovery on Friday at a sold-out lecture at the Cabot Institute. While traditional batteries require wires and coils to operate, the diamond-based battery needs only to be placed near a radioactive source in order to begin generating small electrical currents. The lack of moving parts makes the battery far more durable than its conventional counterparts.
Additionally, the diamond batteries could help dispose of nuclear waste in a safe, permanent way, while resulting in usable energy that does not produce greenhouse gas emissions or require supplemental fuel. “There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation,” said Tom Scott, Professor in Materials in the University of Bristol’s Interface Analysis Center. “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.”
Early prototypes of the battery rely on nickel-63 as the radiation source, which is encased within the man-made diamond, but the team is testing other options to boost efficiency and output. Next on the list is the addition of carbon-14, a radioactive version of carbon which can be easily harvested from graphite blocks. The United Kingdom currently stores around 95,000 metric tons of graphite blocks, so the utilization of carbon-14 in diamond batteries would greatly reduce the cost and risk of storing that particular form of nuclear waste.