What do diamonds, nuclear waste, and batteries all have in common? They may just be
part of “an entirely new kind of electrical generation system.” Let me explain, borrowing
from this helpful article on Seeker.com:
A group of chemists and physicists at the University of Bristol, in the UK, developed a
way to harness nuclear power and turn it into battery energy. In British nuclear power
plants, blocks of graphite are used for energy production. But, when they’ve been used
up, they are highly radioactive and, as with any radioactive material, difficult to discard
and store. This team from Bristol scrapped away the most radioactive parts of the block
for their new research, leaving blocks that are much easier and cheaper to dispose of.
Then, using their radioactive scrapings, the team extracted the carbon-14 (an isotope of
carbon) and made artificial diamonds. These diamonds are identical to natural
diamonds, with one minor difference—they are radioactive. Since diamonds can
naturally produce an electrical current when placed within a radioactive field, these
radioactive diamonds are essentially diamond batteries, producing their own electrical
The team then encased the diamonds in the hardest substance
available—diamonds—so the radioactivity stays inside the radioactive diamond. This
double-diamond has less radioactivity than a banana naturally has.
Diamond batteries produce very small amounts of energy, just 15 joules to the gram.
Compare this to a AA battery which produces 770 joules to the gram. But you won’t
have to charge this battery anytime soon. Carbon-14 has a half-life (how long it takes
half the atoms of C-14 to decay) of 5,730 years so this battery isn’t dying anytime soon.
These diamond batteries have the potential to provide long-lasting energy for
applications where only a small amount of energy is required, but this energy is needed
for a long time such as pacemakers, satellites, high-altitude drones, or spacecraft.
This fun video gives a summary of this exciting new research:
It’s exciting to see the innovations researchers are coming up with to tackle the big
problems of today. What problem would you like to tackle?