Ten Year Batteries

Because at heart, I'm a "geek" when it comes to science, I was attracted to this news about improvements in betavoltaics, nuclear battery technology around for about a half-century that works by harnessing electrons given off in radioactive decay. Even if you haven't heard of betavoltaics, you've seen it at work lighting emergency exit signs that glow continuously for years.

The science of betavoltaics is similar to the way solar panels work by catching photons from the sun and turning them into current. In betavoltaics, silicon captures electrons emitted from a radioactive gas, such as tritium, to form a current. Up to now, however, so little current was generated, far less than a conventional solar cell.

The dilemma: Catching more of the decay, thus revving up the power. Through a microscopic process, a University of Rochester scientist devised a method to capture radioactive gas on a piece of silicon with deep pits like a solar collector.

The great news is that this technology is geared toward applications where power is needed in inaccessible places or under extreme conditions. In other words, places in which batteries should be able to run reliably for more than 10 years without recharging or replacing them, like, for example, deep space probes and whatnot. The not-so-great news: Scientists are eyeing this technology for pacemakers, implanted defibrillators and other implanted devices.

If you're eating a sensible diet based on your body's natural nutritional type, however, you'll probably never need a pacemaker.

PhysOrg.com May 12, 2005

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