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'Diamond Age' Of Power Generation Discovered, Uses Nuclear Waste To Generate Electricity

First Posted: Nov 28, 2016 02:45 AM EST
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A team of physicists and chemists discovered the "diamond age" of power generation that uses nuclear waste to produce electricity in a nuclear-powered battery. The discovery could lead to resolve problems of nuclear waste, clean electricity generation and battery life.

The findings of the discovery were presented at Cabot Institute on a lecture titled "Ideas to Change the World" on Nov. 25, 2016. The study was led by researchers from the University of Bristol. The team has grown a man-made diamond that when placed in a radioactive field, it could generate a small electrical current.

Tom Scott, the professor in Materials in the University's Interface Analysis Centre and a member of the Cabot Institute, explained that there are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation. He further explained that by encapsulating radioactive material inside diamonds, they turn a long-term problem of nuclear waste into a nuclear-powered battery and a long-term supply of clean energy.

Nuclear waste is also referred to as "spent fuel" or a radioactive waste, which is the material that nuclear fuel becomes after it is used in a reactor. It is dangerously radioactive and remains for thousands of years. Nuclear waste is managed by segregation and storage for short-lived waste, near-surface disposal for low and some intermediate-level waste and deep burial for the high-level waste.

In the study, the researchers expounded a prototype "diamond battery" utilizing Nickel-63 as the source of radiation. On the other hand, they used carbon-14, a radioactive version of carbon, for more efficiency. This is produced in graphite blocks used to moderate the reaction in nuclear power plants.

The radioactive carbon-14 can remove the greater part of the radioactive material. Then, the extracted carbon-14 was fused into a diamond to produce a nuclear-powered battery, according to the University of Bristol.

Dr. Neil Fox from the School of Chemistry said that the carbon-14 was chosen as a source material because it emits a short-range radiation, which is absorbed fast by any solid material. He further said that this would make it dangerous to ingest or touch with your naked skin, but safely held within the diamond, no short-range radiation can escape.

With the use of carbon-14, the battery could take 5,730 years to reach 50 percent power. Professor Scott said that these batteries could be applied in low-power electrical devices where long life of energy source is needed. These include satellites, pacemakers, high-altitude drones or spacecraft.

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