To some, the word 'nuclear' conjures up images of mushroom clouds and Chernobyl. So a nuclear battery may sound downright dangerous. But, in fact, nuclear batteries have been safely powering pace-makers, satellites and underwater systems for years. They boast an extremely long life and high energy density compared to typical batteries. However, they are also large and heavy: or at least they were.
Researchers at University of Missouri (MU) are working on a smaller, lighter model. Jae Kwon and his research team are developing a battery that is currently the size and thickness of a penny. However, the battery's small size is not the only innovation; it also utilizes a liquid semiconductor rather than a solid one.
"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," Kwon said. "By using a liquid semiconductor, we believe we can minimize that problem."
Working in collaboration with J. David Robertson, a chemistry professor and the associate director of the MU Research Reactor, Kwon is working to build and test the battery at the MU research facility. He hopes to increase the battery's power while continuing to shrink its size. In fact, Kwon said the battery could eventually be thinner than the thickness of human hair.