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MU Scientists Discover Nuclear Battery That Might Just Be Safe


BatteriesThe name “battery” was given by Benjamin Franklin to multiple Leyden jars (an early type of capacitor). Even though we refer to it at singular, in fact the battery is made by multiple electrical cells. Batteries have evolved a lot since their discovery in the 1800s. They are able to power almost every electrical device, from small electronic devices to large systems and automobiles. The goal of all scientists is to make the smallest battery possible to power the largest device possible. Well, nowadays this is quite often backwards as the battery itself weighs more than the device it powers. The scientists from the University of Missouri may have found just the right thing: they are developing a nuclear energy source that is smaller, lighter and more efficient.

“To provide enough power, we need certain methods with high energy density. The radioisotope battery can provide power density that is six orders of magnitude higher than chemical batteries,” said Jae Kwon, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Missouri. Kwon is working on building a small nuclear battery small as a penny, to power various micro/nanoelectromechanical systems. Everybody is now thinking what does nuclear have to do with the GreenOptimistics? Well, as assistant professor Kwon said, the battery is safe and there is no concern on the environment: “People hear the word ‘nuclear’ and think of something very dangerous. However, nuclear power sources have already been safely powering a variety of devices, such as pace-makers, space satellites and underwater systems”. This makes it a very important discovery for further developments in the energy field.

This battery is not a regular nuclear battery at all. It uses a liquid semiconductor instead of the normal solid semiconductor. “The critical part of using a radioactive battery is that when you harvest the energy, part of the radiation energy can damage the lattice structure of the solid semiconductor. By using a liquid semiconductor, we believe we can minimize that problem.” said Kwon.

Kwon is working in close collaboration with J. David Robertson, a chemistry professor and associate director of the MU Research Reactor. They are working together to build and test the battery at the facility. Future developments hope in an increase of power and shrinkage in size. Kwon is very confident that his battery could shrink to the thickness of a human hair.

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