What if your batteries really kept going and going and going?
Changing a battery is usually a cinch. But batteries for sensors on bridges, medical implants, or satellites can be another story. Now scientists are designing a "beta-battery," which would rarely -- if ever -- need changing. The beta-batteries being studied are fueled by tritium, a radioactive isotope which releases electrons as it decays. These electrons are captured and turned into electricity by porous silicon semiconductors -- almost exactly like solar cells convert sunlight! The silicon is etched with a network of deep pores that effectively capture those decay electrons. The radiation is contained inside a sealed case.
A tritium powered battery may last several years. But one powered by nickel sixty-three, another radioactive isotope, may last for decades. Larry Gadeken, beta-battery's designer, describes yet another feature.
"The tritium radioactive nucleus that I'm using is a waste product of the nuclear power cycle -- the first positive use of radioactive waste."
That may be the biggest advantage of all. I'm Eric Phillips.
"Imagine That!" covers projects funded by the U.S. government's National Science Foundation. Federally-sponsored research -- brought to you by you! Learn more at www.nsf.gov.