Diamonds are a Battery's Best Friend

Ally Winning, European Editor, PSD



In this space in the past, I’ve written quite often on battery technology. It’s no surprise as battery research is the place to be right now. The speed of adoption of electric vehicles and renewable energy is dependent on energy storage that has higher capacity, is more efficient and charges faster. Every mobile phone user in the world would thank a designer who invented a battery which could store double the charge. As such, scientists are searching for new materials and technologies that would enhance the functionality of other designs. These new materials are often variations of lithium, or easy to find metals, but every so often an organisation proposes something genuinely out of the ordinary. In this case, a diamond battery that is fuelled by spent nuclear fuel, which seems more science fiction that modern day reality, but that is the solution proposed by US startup NBD.

The company claims to have developed a high-power diamond-based alpha, beta, and neutron voltaic battery that can operate off its own power source for up to 28,000 years. According to NBD, Diamond Nuclear Voltaic (DNV) technology combines elements of a semiconductor, metal and ceramic. The device has two contact surfaces to assist charge collection. Units are attached together in a stack arrangement, which is manufactured to create a positive and negative contact surface just like a common battery system. Every layer of the DNV stack includes a high energy output source. NBD’s design improves the efficiency of the system and provides a multi-layer safety shield for it. The company claims its proprietary nanostructure offers more efficient device performance, while at the same time offering sophisticated safety features for the radiation, thermal and mechanical aspects of the battery.

As radioisotopes produce high amounts of heat. The placement of the source between the DNV units facilitates inelastic scattering that originates due to the presence of single crystalline diamond (SCD) in the DNV unit. The design prevents self-absorption of heat by the radioisotope and provides a quick conversion to usable electricity. A thin-film profile allows radiation absorption in the single crystalline diamond with minimal self-adsorption. The flexible design structure allows the technology to take a wide variety of shapes and forms depending on the application.

It is definitely an interesting sounding technology. There doesn't seem to be too many in-depth details on its actual capabilities. Could it have the same power capability in the same size as a mobile phone battery, or even an EV one? If it works, there is no doubt that some applications would benefit. I’m not sure if people would be too keen to use the battery in a hearing aid, but for long distance space application it could provide a viable solution.