Since 1950s, radiation powered battery technology has been studied as an energy source and this field of study is called “Betavoltaics”. Nuclear technologies are not dangerous if used in controlled way such as fire detectors in bedrooms. Researchers have now used controlled nuclear power to prototype a dependable power supply for vehicles, spacecraft and other applications where longevity, reliability, and efficiency are main concern.
Scientists at University of Missouri (MU) have developed new nuclear powered, water based battery which is both longer lasting and more efficient than the current battery technologies.
They utilized the radioactive isotope strontium-90 which enhances the electro-chemical energy produced in a water-based solution. The researchers have also used a nano-structured titanium dioxide electrode as a catalyst which in union with applied radiation assists in the breakdown of water into mixed oxygen compounds. Hence, when high-energy beta radiations are passed through, electron-hole pairs are produced which creates an electron flow and a resultant electric current.
Associate professor Jae W. Kwon, of the College of Engineering at MU says, “Water acts as a buffer and surface plasmons created in the device turned out to be very useful in increasing its efficiency. The ionic solution is not easily frozen at very low temperatures and could work in a wide variety of applications including car batteries and, if packaged properly, perhaps spacecraft.”
The nuclear powered battery was made possible because of the fact that high energy beta radiation produces free radicals of water in a way that kinetic energy is trapped in water molecules. The trapped radiation can then be converted into electric current at room temperature.
Solar cells use a similar mechanism but the free radicals produced are very few because the photon energies are at lower levels. On the other hand, beta radiations from strontium source involve free radicals at greater electron energy levels.
The water based nuclear battery offers a more viable alternative to the solar cells as a sustainable, low-pollution energy source. This research was published in Nature.