The short and unpredictable nature of the conventional chemical batteries, along with the frequent replacements that they require, has created an acute need for a reliable, longer-lasting and rugged source of energy. Moreover Radars, spacecrafts, interstellar probes and other advanced communication devices require much larger power than that can be met by conventional energy sources. The solution to long term energy source is the nuclear powered batteries which have a life span of few decades and can pack in energy densities thousands of time greater than conventional battery sources. Hence, there is an urgent need to harvest enormous amount of energy released naturally by the tiny bits of radioactive material. Unlike conventional nuclear power generating devices, these batteries do not rely on the fission or fusion reactions and do not generate any radioactive material as by-product. They promise clean, safe, reliable and almost endless energy without any drop in its yield or efficiency during its entire life span-which runs up to minimum of 10 years. They are generally used as power sources in unmanned and unmaintained locations requiring energy for longer durations. Nuclear batteries are not only going to replace conventional batteries, chargers and adapters but also present innovative means of powering portable devices. The nuclear battery technology is geared up to make way into commonly used day to day product like cell phones, laptops, automobiles etc. Surely it is battery of future.
In this day and age of miniaturization the size of electronic circuitry has been diminishing at a astonishingly dizzying pace but the batteries that power these devices are not keeping up with them. The world of tomorrow that the technology manifests will be a very small one and we will need smaller batteries to power it !! Be it our personal laptops or cell phones, batteries still occupy a significant portion of the volume. The reason being the batteries are still nothing more than cans of chemicals like they were two centuries ago. They have not undergone any significant change in their functionality since Italian physicist Alexandaro Volta demonstrated flow of electric current between two conductors by alternating discs of zinc and copper with pieces of cardboard soaked in brine.
Many systems ideally (especially those in remote locations) have to operate for long periods, and it is not always feasible to recharge or replace their batteries. Now, with technology ushering in new era of miniaturization where MEMS (Micro Electrical Mechanical System) are gaining widespread popularity and are increasingly being used for a multitude of applications, they lack a durable onboard power supply. Batteries are at a critical juncture here!!
MEMS are finding increasing applications in everything from sensors in car that trigger an alarm to injectible drug delivery system to environment monitoring ‘Smart Dust’ but they lack a long lasting on-device power source. To work around this power block, researchers have found an intriguing way: by harvesting the huge amount of energy released by radioactive material. Although several sources of energy could be used to supply this needed power (solid, fossil fuel) by these MEMS based systems but nuclear batteries are fast becoming a popular option in terms of power density and lifetime.For example A tiny speck of radioisotope like nickel-63 can generate enough energy to power these MEMS for decades. These nuclear micro batteries have energy at densities at thousand times greater than the Lithium ion batteries. So with these miniature machines really hitting their stride, we’ll need smaller, reliable and longer lasting battery sources! To clear the common misconception, nuclear power sources are not miniature nuclear reactors and they do not involve any fission or fusion reactions. In these power sources we use specific isotopes which emit particles that are blocked by...
References: 1. “Nuclear and Radiochemistry” , Gerhardt Friedlander and Joseph W. Kennedy
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