Chinese Company Creates Nuclear Battery

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A Chinese company says it has developed a nuclear battery that supplies power for decades without recharging. Beijing-based Betavolt also says its postage-stamp-sized cells are so safe they can be used in medical devices. “The atomic energy battery developed by Betavolt is absolutely safe, has no external radiation, and is suitable for use in medical devices such as pacemakers, artificial hearts and cochleas in the human body,” the company said. The company says its first battery supplies just 100 microwatts of power at three volts, but it envisions cellphone and drone batteries that will keep those devices operating for 50 years or more. The company did not discuss scalability to power, say, airplanes but it does seem to think the sky is no limit.

Betavolt devoted a lot of space in its announcement to calming fears about the energy source’s environmental impact. “Atomic energy batteries are environmentally friendly. After the decay period, the 63 isotopes turn into a stable isotope of copper, which is non-radioactive and does not pose any threat or pollution to the environment.” It also says the batteries won’t explode if physically damaged and can’t catch fire.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

48 COMMENTS

  1. “… 100 microvolts of power at three volts” Ummm … sumting wong with that statement. Do you mean 100 microwatts?

    • This is not a new technology, just an advance in the technology. A lot of people have been working on it for some time. It could have been the Russians, the Japanese, the British, the Vulcans, who knows? Your cynical assumption borders on jingoism.

      • Jingoism for thinking the biggest thieves of IP probably stole the tech? I think we probably better question your motives for the accusation. Right? Good grief.

  2. Why would you put one of these things in a cell phone?!? Yeah, great battery life but what are the trade offs?? Also, the phone will be technologically obsolete long before the battery dies, assuming the battery doesn’t decay in a pile of radioactive waste after a few years of use and abuse. Finally, how tough is this nuclear battery? Can it survive being dropped or other related impacts like what would happen if it’s in a cell phone? Can it survive being exposed to high heat? This seems like a bad idea, somewhat similar to anti-tank dogs. Great in theory but not-so-great in practice.

    • Cell phones used to have replaceable batteries – if you could remove the battery when the cell phone became obsolete, and then reinstall it in the next cell phone, it would work. With that technology, cell phone manufactures might have to go back to easily replaceable batteries.

  3. Nuclear batteries and Betavolt have been around for a long time. The issue, at least so far, isn’t technology, it’s mostly just cost and safety. These things cost hundreds and into the thousands per battery last time I checked. And for that they put out less power than a coin cell.

    Outside of pacemakers and space probes where a battery change is difficult to impossible, there aren’t a lot of use cases where the cost is justified.

    There actually are other isotopes such as Hafnium 178m2 which have the potential to make much more energy and power dense nuclear batteries, but due to safety concerns haven’t been developed yet.

    Checkout: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hafnium_controversy

    > 178m2Hf has the highest excitation energy of any comparably long-lived isomer. One gram of pure 178m2Hf contains approximately 1330 megajoules of energy, the equivalent in about 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of the explosive TNT. The half-life of 178m2Hf is 31 years.

  4. Nuclear batteries in a snowflake society that already fears the gas it exhales and, when polled, dihydrogen oxide? That will be the day. In my equipment manufacturing past, clients in critical areas such as food or Pharma strictly forbid the use of any metal originating in China, regardless the claims on material certificates. They cheat.

  5. It is hard to find anything in a store that is not Made In China including our own American flags (now is that sick or what?). It makes sense that China would turn the Ever-Ready Bunny into a 3 generation toy with a single battery. When one thinks of the pile of pollution and waste, on a daily basis, from AAA and AA batteries I totally support whom ever brings the nuke battery to market. Adios Lithium Ion batteries.

    There was a Cherokee Lance (inflight) fire in Ohio this past fall. Two perished. I haven’t followed the accident but the original guess was a portable battery failure/fire. Think about it the next time you get on an airliner with 250 seat mates each carrying a laptop and a cellphone.

    • Sad when a Chinese made American flag can have better quality (and a lower price) than an American made American flag.

      But let us not let meritocracy get in the way of flag manufacturing.

      • No one has ever equated quality with Chinese made. Price, due to inferior materials and slave labor is their selling point. The sadness comes from those who support it.

    • Can’t say I know this, but it was my first instinct upon reading the article: Manufacture these in space, and use (keep) then in space. Seems like a good application.

  6. Thanks Russ for a good informative article, and also thanks to Frank for the additional technical information. The rest of the comments, for the most part, have the relevance of a beer bash at a church picnic. Someone, somewhere will produce a viable battery that MAY make e-flight possible. But this is a stepping stone, not to be soon found at WalMart. Russ is doing his job – reporting the news as best as he can. Give him a little slack!

  7. Thank you, Russ, for an informative article about a new technology that holds some promise for the future. Most people understand that things like this have a long way to go before being commercially viable. It’s interesting. It’s called R&D. Ultimately, the market will decide.

    I’m old enough to remember naysayers’ comments about the advent of personal computers and cell phones. “Who will ever need a computer in their home?” “Who will ever want to carry one of those expensive telephones around and why?” “Whose trying to push this stuff down our throats?” “Probably a communist plot.” “OMG!! It’s the anti-Christ!”

    Jeez!

    • Thankyou Bipes4evr. This is industry news, it is not an advertisement for you to go out and buy the damn thing. Read the article, process the information and store it away for future reference if it interests you. If not move on.

      The reporter is doing his job, reporting.

  8. Good article! I love hearing about interesting technology, whether it’s ready for prime time or not.

    Beta radiation is the release of an electron by a radioactive substance, which by definition is an electric current. Those electrons can be blocked by a thin layer of metal, presumably the electrodes of the battery, and do not pose the same danger as gamma emitters. That said, you would not want to ingest the contents of the battery, or release it into the environment.

    My guess is that this technology won’t be approved for use in any place where it could be tampered with or accidentally damaged enough to release the contents.

  9. Russ Niles, the connoisseur of criticism, has been generously serving it to the commentariat for years. I’ve been hit by his flack at least once. In return, he’s received his fair share of critiques from the very same crowd. Through my keen observations spanning two decades as a loyal AVweb follower, I’ve grown to admire his journalistic prowess. It’s as if his robust character, shielded by a skin thicker than a tank’s armor, fortifies him. I predict that Russ, the resilient survivor, will undoubtedly prevail. By golly, I firmly believe that he’s not one to melt under the scorching flames of occacional criticism!

  10. The Atomic bomb was supposed to end all wars. But no one considered the after effects. Mankind first needs to learn how to deal with radiation, like the plants do, and then we will see how to exploit the energy safely.

  11. Sounds great in theory but I think I will pass on being a Beta tester for this one.

    Even if it works I am sure that industry will find a way to screw the consumer by packaging it in bespoke containers. “Oh sorry your device needs a NN3A battery not the NN3B battery that your other device uses or our competitors Nn3 battery style” 🙄

    • OMG … they better put a warning label on those batteries, too … “Keep away from children” and “Do Not Eat” and “Do Not cut Open.” Wonder how long it’ll take the tree huggers to start demonstrating against these things? They might wind up in the ocean whereupon porpoises will start glowing in the dark?

  12. This cell is no where near a commercially viable product at 100 micro-watts.
    My cell phone battery is capable of 4+ watts, so it would take 40,000 of these cells to equal the power of the Li battery.
    This cell, using Ni-63, has been in development for at least 10 years now.

  13. The answer to a couple questions: First, the Voyager 1 and 2 space probes were powered by three thermoelectric generators, each containing 22 small balls of Plutonium oxide (half life 87 years). Each PuO ball was encased in a metal shell and packed in a crash-resistant cylinder. In addition to the 470 watts of electric power, the heat was also used to warm some of the scientific instruments. As you can imagine, that type of power source was not warmly received by the public over fears of radiation released if the probe crashed on launch. The word Plutonium seems to get everyone really stirred up. It was used because solar panels would be useless in the outer solar system where the probes operated. As for the nuclear powered airplane, the Air Force actually built one in the 1960s. It did work, but due to the weight of the reactor and its shielding, there was little capacity for any payload. Plus, concerns over contamination following a crash doomed the project.

    As for ionization type smoke detectors, the ones currently in production use Americium 241 as their source material. The AM 241 does not produce power, but releases alpha particles that ionize smoke, which is detected by a voltage differential circuit. AM 241 also releases a tiny amount of gamma radiation, but the amount of isotope present is so small that it is not considered a hazard. Even though AM 241 has a half life of over 430 years, the manufacturers say you should replace the detector after 10 years. Most recycling centers refuse to accept them. The US EPA currently says it is okay to just put them in the trash. Ironically, the Soviet Union originally used Plutonium as the source material for smoke detectors they produced. Fortunately, they were not widely sold.

    Your useless trivia facts for the day…😁

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