Transforming nuclear waste into (very) long-lasting batteries

·2-min read
The Arkenlight battery is still in the pre-production phase.

For more than two years, researchers at the UK's University of Bristol have been working on recycling nuclear waste, in this case carbon-14, to produce particularly resistant and long-lasting microbatteries.

In the not-too-distant future, waste from nuclear power plants could be used as raw material for the production of small batteries. Researchers have developed a type of battery based on carbon 14. Here, carbon 14 is converted into the form of small artificial diamonds, capable of producing enough betavoltaic power to run small connected devices. Indeed, their low power production capacity limits these "diamond batteries" to powering only very low-consumption devices.

Carbon 14 has many advantages. First, it has relatively low radioactivity. Second, it is particularly robust, since it is able to resist the most extreme temperatures and humidity. Finally, it has a colossal lifespan, largely exceeding 10,000 years. The diamonds created in this way would therefore be almost eternal. A few kilograms of carbon-14 would be enough to produce several million microbatteries, and no maintenance would be required over this lifespan.

This process responds to both technological and ecological challenges, ahead of a vast program to dismantle Britain's oldest nuclear power plants.

The development of prototypes and the future production of this type of battery is currently being managed by British company Arkenlight, which was created specifically to promote the work of these researchers. It hopes to begin commercializing this type of battery by the end of 2023. As an example, researchers have already used early prototypes to power sensors monitoring volcano activity.

Recycling nuclear waste to generate power without using other materials is a shining example of the circular economy. Arkenlight already has the necessary patents to manufacture its diamonds.

Note that an American start-up, NDB, is also working on a similar type of technology, the aim being to one day equip the majority of our electronic devices -- from smartphones to computers through all everyday smart devices. All of which would consequently no longer need recharging.

David Bénard

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