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Liquid Semiconductor Nuclear Battery Big As A Penny

A radioisotope battery the size and thickness of a dime can provide power density six orders of magnitude greater than that of ordinary chemical batteries. And a new form of internal structure could mean that these nuclear batteries could be as thin as a human hair.


(Liquid semiconductor nuclear battery)

Nuclear power is already used in batteries in pacemakers and space satellites, so they can be safe, according to Kwon, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Missouri University.

His innovation is not only in the battery’s size, but also in its semiconductor. Kwon’s battery uses a liquid semiconductor rather than a 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,” Kwon said. “By using a liquid semiconductor, we believe we can minimize that problem.”

Kwon has been collaborating with J. David Robertson, chemistry professor and associate director of the MU Research Reactor, and is working to build and test the battery at the facility. In the future, they hope to increase the battery’s power, shrink its size and try with various other materials. Kwon said that the battery could be thinner than the thickness of human hair. They’ve also applied for a provisional patent.

Kwon’s research has been published in the Journal of Applied Physics Letters and Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry.

Isaac Asimov was an early proponent of the idea that nuclear power could be provided in very small packages, as incredible as it might seem. When trader Hober Mallow attempts to tell a nuclear power expert that his personal force shield uses a tiny nuclear power source, this is the response:

The tech-man looked up, and his face was congested with blood. "Sir, I am a tech-man, senior grade. I have twenty years behind me as supervisor and I studied under the great Bler at the University of Trantor. If you have the infernal charlatanry to tell me that a small container the size of a - of a walnut, blast it, holds a nuclear generator, I'll have you before the Protector in three seconds."
(Read more about the tiny nuclear generators from Foundation and Empire [1952])

Fans of Robert Heinlein might be reminded of the shipstones from his 1982 novel Friday.

From Mizzou scientist develops a powerful nuclear battery (MU press release) via Next Big Future.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/8/2009)

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