NanoTritium battery is good for twenty years (or more)

Aug 18, 2012 by Nancy Owano report
NanoTritium

(Phys.org) -- Florida-based City Labs says it has created an adult’s thumb-sized, battery, NanoTritium, that can last 20 years or more in the most extreme conditions, such as extreme temperature and vibrations.

City Labs requested defense contractor Lockheed Martin to test their batteries, which were confirmed to operate as specified and to be resistant to extreme temperatures (-50°C to +150°C), and extreme vibration and altitude. The power cell generates electricity using a layer of the -element tritium, mounted onto a semiconductor. The City Labs’ battery produces nanowatts of power; it is not strong enough to power a cell phone or laptop. This is a low-power battery that can run micro-electronics, anywhere that is hard, dangerous or expensive to reach.

Applications include implants such as pacemakers as well as devices in industry (sensors on deep-water oil drills) and defense. This is further described as a commercially-viable “betavoltaic” power source, meaning it’s powered by a radioactive element. Whereas normal batteries are powered by chemical processes, the NanoTritium is powered by physical processes of the benign radioisotope, tritium. The makers point out that tritium is already used in exit signs and divers’ watches.

Peter Cabauy and Denset Serralta founded the company in 2005; Cabauy has a PhD in applied physics. Larry Olsen, who also has a PhD in physics, later joined the business. He is known for his work in the 1970s on betavoltaic batteries. He helped to create a betavoltaic power source strong enough to power pacemakers. Olsen is the City Labs director of research. Others on the staff have similarly strong backgrounds in engineering and science. The company was awarded an Air Force contract of nearly $1 million for a higher-, customized battery, and has been fueled by private investors as well.

In a historical review paper about the betavoltaic battery, Olsen, Serralta and Cabauy noted that numerous research groups have continued attempts to commercialize a betavoltaic that is both reliable and safe. Dr. Olsen had published a betavoltaic review suggesting tritium as a safe alternative to other radioisotopes. Independently, City Labs also concluded that could be an excellent candidate for use within a betavoltaic battery design.

Available commercially, the device is expected to be valued in the “couple thousand dollar range” at first, Cabauy said, but in time as the company produces more the price may become less. The is currently available in “engineering” quantities, according to the company, up to 1,000 a year, and is assembled in the company’s lab.

Explore further: Novel capability enables first test of real turbine engine conditions

More information: www.citylabs.net/content/BetavoltaicHistory.pdf

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User comments : 18

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Sonhouse
3.8 / 5 (5) Aug 18, 2012
You know, one interesting development coming up in the semiconductor world is spintronics. It is touted as potentially at least using 1/100,000 of the energy of CMOS and the rest of the semiconductor technology. If so, combined with this tritium cell, maybe we would have computers almost permanently powered by this battery.

The picture seems to show it as part of an existing IC already, with the dual inline pins and such. So you could see this as being built in to each different kind of chip, cpu, video, audio, etc.

Of course the final result would be a mix since it takes a lot of power for either audio or video unless technology advances to the point of direct stimulation of audio and visual centers in the brain, even other senses too.
dub1
not rated yet Aug 18, 2012
The pic seems to show an IC arrangement. Replacing the bios battery in your computer might be a more apt analogy at this point. The temperature extremes are not space worthy, officially, so this would be terrestrial usage. Spintronics and related theoretical storage concepts are a little ways from functional. IBM will let us know when they have secured all the relevant patents. ;)
SatanLover
1.4 / 5 (9) Aug 18, 2012
adults thumb sized?

who the hell writes this stuff? you really think a monkey is gonna read this article?
Ober
5 / 5 (2) Aug 18, 2012
The pictured chip/Battery says August 2008
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2012
Replacing the bios battery in your computer might be a more apt analogy at this point.

I'd think you'd want this type of battery somewhere where you can keep track of it. Not really a good idea to put this in the mass market and where much of it will end up as radioactive landfill.

Tritum emits beta radiation. Even encased like that that won't shield everything (you can't shield radiation 100% since shielding is a stochastic effect.)
nkalanaga
not rated yet Aug 18, 2012
As they noted, tritium is already used in exit signs and diver's watches, so disposal must not be a problem. The quantity involved probably isn't enough to produce dangerous levels of contamination.

From the article, it seems that the process actually captures the beta particles (electrons) and uses them as electricity, rather than converting radioactive heat to electricity, as current radioisotope power sources do. If so, the entire device would, effectively, be a chunk of inert material, probably metal and silicon, with some tritium in the center. The tritium would be very well contained, unless someone tried to physically destroy the device, which would likely require a large hammer.
david_king
1 / 5 (10) Aug 19, 2012
Would you really want a radioactive battery in your pacemaker?
TAz00
5 / 5 (4) Aug 19, 2012
Would you really want a radioactive battery in your pacemaker?


Some people do. And some have lived 30 years, without recharging.
Eikka
2.7 / 5 (7) Aug 19, 2012
I'd think you'd want this type of battery somewhere where you can keep track of it. Not really a good idea to put this in the mass market and where much of it will end up as radioactive landfill.


Tritium has a half-life of 12 years. It will simply be gone by the time anyone digs it up.

Tritum emits beta radiation. Even encased like that that won't shield everything (you can't shield radiation 100% since shielding is a stochastic effect.)


Beta radiation is free electrons. I'm pretty sure you can contain electrons very effectively with... oh, tin foil?

If you want to worry about something, worry about the fact that tritium itself is not found in nature, but produced in nuclear reactors from heavy water. The fact that we have tritium in the first place is because of reactor types like CANDU that would leak tritium into the environment if it wasn't collected and sold off to make glowing watches and keychains etc.

Oh, and it can also be used to boost a fission bomb.
Tallyradman
5 / 5 (1) Aug 19, 2012
Comments on comments:

The betas emitted by tritium have such low energy that they can't penetrate skin. H-3 is one of safest commercial rad. materials available.

Radiation-powered pacemakers have been around for ages; earlier models used plutonium, were very safe and long-lasting.

While also produced artificially, tritium is a naturally occurring radioisotope that is ubiquitous in the terresterial environment. Earth's H-3 inventory is kept stable by the continuous addition of new tritium produced via interactions between cosmic radiation and atoms/molecules in the upper atmosphere.
Eikka
1.7 / 5 (6) Aug 19, 2012
that is ubiquitous in the terresterial environment


Yet the world stockpiles of tritium are on the order of 100 kilograms and it costs $30,000 per gram. It's probably the most expensive stuff on earth that you can actually hold in your hand. (I wouldn't hold californium in my hand, and diamonds are only artifically expensive)

It is very very rare stuff.
dtxx
1.6 / 5 (7) Aug 19, 2012
Not that you would hold it in your hand, but if we are talking about expensive substances then antimatter probably takes the cake.

"According to CERN, it has cost a few hundred million Swiss Francs to produce about 1 billionth of a gram... "

Also, apparently, all industries combined use about 400 grams of tritium per year, so that 100 kilos is enough for quite a long time at current rates. 100 kilos sounds like very little for the whole world, and it is, but that puts a little perspective on it.
Husky
not rated yet Aug 19, 2012
for a moment i thought this battery was for the adult entertainment industry, anyway, thumbs up!
Eikka
1 / 5 (4) Aug 19, 2012
Also, apparently, all industries combined use about 400 grams of tritium per year, so that 100 kilos is enough for quite a long time at current rates.


Except that it keeps decaying into Helium-3 at a rate of around 4000 grams a year. In 12.3 years half of it will be gone. Since it's a half-life, it'll take a long long time before all of it is gone, but the world supply of tritium isn't enough to maintain stockpiles any larger than that.
Argiod
1 / 5 (8) Aug 20, 2012
I'm sure this sort of battery will find use in the military and aerospace industries. But, frankly, I don't want a device in my home or vehicle that has a gamma source that requires such shielding, and most likely requires special handling to dispose of at the end of its life. I've already replaced the smoke detectors in my apartment with the LED variety when I found out that standard detectors have a gamma source in them.
nkalanaga
not rated yet Aug 20, 2012
Tritium is a beta (electron) source, not a gamma (electromagnetic) source. Smoke detectors use gamma sources to ionize the air, which beta radiation doesn't do.
Cornelius2008
not rated yet Aug 20, 2012
I'm sure this sort of battery will find use in the military and aerospace industries. But, frankly, I don't want a device in my home or vehicle that has a gamma source that requires such shielding, and most likely requires special handling to dispose of at the end of its life. I've already replaced the smoke detectors in my apartment with the LED variety when I found out that standard detectors have a gamma source in them.


That is halarious. Argiod do you eat bananas? They have potassium which is radioactive. And I know you'd protest an X-ray like a death sentence, an airline flight, or drive on the same roads that diesel trucks do cause they're exhaust has alpha emitters in it. Also please don't tell me you go outside when a high pressure system is nearby because a naturally occuring radiactive isotope of radon gas that comes out of the ground all around you gets held up in high enough concentrations to set off alarms at nuke cites.
nkalanaga
not rated yet Aug 21, 2012
Or live near a coal burning power plant, or its ash dump, as coal ash has enough uranium and thorium to qualify as radioactive waste.