Feeds

Coin-sized nuclear isotope battery minted

Charge your cell for a thousand years

Top three mobile application threats

A boffin in Missouri has invented a nuclear-powered battery the size of a penny. Professor Jae Kwon believes that radioisotope batteries can hold a million times as much juice as today's chemical types, perhaps offering the potential for devices like torches and cellphones which would never run flat.

The sulphur-isotope battery developed by Jae Kwon. Credit: MU

The thousand-year cellphone battery takes shape.

“People hear the word ‘nuclear’ and think of something very dangerous,” says Kwon. “However, nuclear power sources have already safely powered a variety of devices, such as pace-makers, space satellites and underwater systems.”

Radioisotope generators/batteries of the type Kwon is developing are smaller and less complex than a full-blown nuclear reactor. They have, as he says, been used to provide power in spacecraft - typically secret spy satellites in need of more power than solar panels can provide - and also probes sent far from the sun. But these power units have been a lot bigger than a penny.

"We need high energy density,” says Kwon, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Missouri. “The radioisotope battery can provide power density that is six orders of magnitude higher than chemical batteries.”

At first sight that would seem to mean cellphones, torches etc, whose batteries would last thousands of years - or the life of the item in question, anyway.

Kwon's special sauce, apart from the teeny size of his battery, is the use of a liquid semiconductor as opposed to the solid-state devices normally used in nuclear battery units.

"The hard part of using radioactive decay is that when you harvest the energy, part of that energy goes towards creating defects that damage a solid-state semiconductor," says Kwon's collaborator J David Robertson. "So we created a battery without that part degrading over time."

Kwon's focus is on producing extremely tiny batteries for powering so-called Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS). He thinks that in future his nuclear liquid-semiconductor power units could be made "thinner than a human hair".

As for powering gadgets, torches - perhaps even electric cars - such applications would seem out of reach for now. Kwon says that there is "a long way to go" before his battery is ready for commercial marketing.

"Not necessarily in terms of a long time, but we have a lot of work before it is ready for industry. At this moment, we're still at the fundamental research level," he said.

In particular, he needs to boost the power output of the battery before it can ever be relevant to devices other than MEMS. It currently puts out just 16.2 nano-Watts. One would need a huge pile of such batteries - almost forty million of them - to produce enough power to run a cellphone.

Still, assuming that Kwon's right about the potential energy density, that big pile of batteries would power the cellphone for over five thousand years. If the kit scales up in output and down in size as Kwon seems to suggest, a normal-sized phone battery with a life on the order of months would seem possible.

There's more from the University of Missouri here. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
Opportunity selfie: Martian winds have given the spunky ol' rover a spring cleaning
Power levels up 70 per cent as the rover keeps on truckin'
LOHAN and the amazing technicolor spaceplane
Our Vulture 2 livery is wrapped, and it's les noix du mutt
Liftoff! SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts Dragon on third resupply mission to ISS
SpaceX snaps smartly into one-second launch window
KILLER ROBOTS, DNA TAMPERING and PEEPING CYBORGS: the future looks bright!
Americans optimistic about technology despite being afraid of EVERYTHING
R.I.P. LADEE: Probe smashes into lunar surface at 3,600mph
Swan dive signs off successful science mission
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
prev story

Whitepapers

SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.