Lithium-ion batteries are used in a wide range of consumer electronics like smartphones and laptop computers, and their applications are now expanding to transportation and utility. While they are becoming more and more indispensable in people’s technological lives, the energy storage market is also seeing rapid advancements every day. With the emergence of new energy storage technologies that promise better performance, can lithium-ion batteries retain their dominant position over the long term?
Recently, an American startup NDB Inc. has unveiled what it calls a “Diamond Nuclear Voltaic” (DNV) device. Although the device is still in the concept stage of the product development process, NDB claims that it is practical, high-performing, environment-friendly, and totally safe for consumers. In terms of operational lifespan, NDB touts that the DNV device can last between 10 to 28,000 years without charging. This technology also has the potential to be cheaper than the lithium-ion battery because it offers a much higher energy density and a much higher power density.
As the name suggests, the core of a DNV device is a piece of recycled radioactive waste. The spent nuclear fuel and other types of radioactive waste produced by the fission process have long been a headache for countries that adopt nuclear power because they are difficult to dispose and remain hazardous for years to come. NDB attempts to turn this problem into an opportunity by converting the used graphite components of a nuclear reactor into “nano-diamonds” that can generate electricity.
NDB in its general description of its technology says that the used graphite contains an abundant amount of carbon-14 radioisotopes. These radioisotopes undergo beta decay and transmute into nitrogen-14 while releasing electrons and antineutrinos. NDB therefore purifies the used graphite and makes tiny carbon-14 diamonds from it. The crystalline structure of these diamonds serves as a semiconductor and a heat sink, thus allowing the collection and transportation of electric charge.
Even though carbon-14 diamonds are radioactive, NDB emphasizes that the DNV device does not emit any harmful radiation because they are encased in layers of non-radioactive carbon-12 diamonds. As a type of synthetic diamonds, carbon-12 diamonds are super-hard and inexpensive. They act as an armored casing that is able to prevent radiation from leaking out the core of the device while protecting the device from physical damages caused by outside forces. NDB says that the DNV device actually produces less radiation than does the human body.
According to reports from media outlets, these devices can be stacked together like cells in a battery pack and then integrated with a small supercapacitor on a circuit board. This battery-like power source is scalable and can adapt to the shapes and sizes of conventional batteries such as AA, AAA, 18650, and 2170.
Since the DNV device can continuously release electric charge over many years without requiring a recharge during its operational period, it is not so much a secondary battery as a miniature power generator. NDB believes that the potential scope of uses for this technology is massive. It is expected to be well suited for the most mainstream and basic applications such as consumer electronics and transportation. Apart from smartphones and electric cars, the DNV device can also be scaled down to become power sources for pacemakers and other electronic medical implants. In this application area, the long operational lifespan of the device might even eliminate replacement surgeries.
In an interview, Neel Naicker, chief strategy officer of NDB, said that the technology developed by his company can be turned into a power source that is around the same size of the lithium-ion battery for an iPhone. Naicker offers a scenario where smartphone users would not have to charge their phones every day, every week, every month… etc. With this “miniature nuclear battery”, they may not even have to charge their phones after several decades of use (assuming that the phone can outlast the power source).
At the same time, NDB’s technology can be scaled up for powering electric vehicles. A battery-like system that incorporates the DNV device can retain a very high level of power density even after 90 years of operation as part of the automotive powertrain.
Currently, NDB has completed a proof of concept and will soon begin building a commercial prototype. Once the device reaches a sufficient level of technological maturity, it will be further developed into solutions that are comparable to standard batteries but have a lifespan ranging from a decade to 28,000 years. All in all, what NDB is offering has the potential to become a game changer in the energy storage market.
(News source: TechNews. Photo credit: NDB Inc.)