We live in a battery world - just visit any airport and see people huddled around a wall outlet to witness our battery culture. Yet batteries haven't made any real improvements in decades and that holds back electric cars and solar energy and laptop computers.
An old technology may finally have come of age that can help us enter the world of 21st century portable electricity - betavoltaics, a battery technology that generates power from radiation, has bee created using a water-based solution, and it might be the longer-lasting and more efficient nuclear battery we need.
Nuclear? Won't anti-science activists go crazy and call for bans?
"Controlled nuclear technologies are not inherently dangerous," says Jae W. Kwon, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and nuclear engineering in the College of Engineering at University of Missouri. "We already have many commercial uses of nuclear technologies in our lives including fire detectors in bedrooms and emergency exit signs in buildings."
The battery uses a radioactive isotope called strontium-90 that boosts electrochemcial energy in a water-based solution. A nanostructured titanium dioxide electrode (the common element found in sunscreens and UV blockers) with a platinum coating collects and effectively converts energy into electrons.
"Water acts as a buffer and surface plasmons created in the device turned out to be very useful in increasing its efficiency," Kwon said. "The ionic solution is not easily frozen at very low temperatures and could work in a wide variety of applications including car batteries and, if packaged properly, perhaps spacecraft."