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New energies 13/09/2020

A Solution For Nuclear Waste That Could Also Be A Battery Game-Changer

Ever since the world started considering cutting emissions, nuclear power has returned to the center of public debate. It is one of the world’s most low-carbon energy sources, and has the potential to sustain a large part of the demand currently met by fossil fuels.

A California-based company NDB says i has found a way to reuse radioactive waste to produce green, self-powered batteries

Of course, the most talked-about cause for concern of this energy source is the risk of accidents. But the other major red flag is nuclear waste: heavily toxic by-products that take millennia to degrade, must be safely stored in specific disposal sites, and are pretty much impossible to recycle. (Some estimates suggest the US nuclear industry spends up to $100 million a year to deal with waste.)

But recent efforts are showing major progress in finding viable solutions. One comes from California-based company NDB, which says it’s found a way to reuse radioactive waste to produce green, self-powered batteries that have the potential to shake up the energy ecosystem as we know it.

It’s not clear yet if the technology can be produced for a mass market or will be commercially viable: so far, NDB has only presented a proof of concept and will work to deliver a commercial prototype once its labs reopen after the pandemic.

Still, if all goes well, here’s how they say it would work:

  • Nuclear waste into batteries: NDB says the technology could purify the graphite contained in parts of reactors, converting it into radioactive carbon-14, which has a half-life of 5,730 years. The company designed carbon-14 nano diamonds that it says are able to produce a huge quantity of energy — and the battery cells would never need charging.
  • Safety first: The batteries would be wrapped in additional layers of synthetic carbon-12 diamonds, which prevent radiation leaks. The company says that one battery would produce less radiation than the human body. Diamond is also a heat sink, as well as one of the hardest materials on earth — 11.5 times harder than steel — so the synthetic case could protect users from heat and shield the cell from falls, bumps and even car crash
  • Off-grid power: Batteries would be near-inexhaustible, and could deliver energy for a long time without needing to be recharged. This means people could have access to power without being connected to the grid, freeing societies of heavy infrastructure investments.
  • Goodbye lithium: NDB says the batteries would outlive the lithium-ion ones most of our devices currently rely on by many years. Just how long their lives will be depends on their application. Recent NDB estimates say that cell-phone batteries could last up to nine years. Car batteries could go on for 90 years. And in some small sensor applications? A staggering 28,000 years.

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