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Topic: Nuclear Batteries  (Read 37547 times)

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Corvettaholic

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Nuclear Batteries
« on: April 08, 2005, 12:21:33 PM »
After a lot of googling, I've got a pretty good idea of how a simple nuclear battery is supposed to work. The way I understand it, is have some radioactive element/compound just sitting in a lead box. Inside said box, you have some el-cheapo solar panels or maybe a diode. If using solar panels, would the beta radiation given off allow the panels to generate a voltage? Some company called Betavoltaic seems to think so, but I don't think they have a working model. If you have a simple PN junction, when you slam it with beta particles (or was it neutrons?) it would add more holes to the junction so electrons could actually move, and they WILL move generating a voltage.

Is this stuff just conjecture, or is this actually possible? If its workable from a redneck engineering standpoint, I'd like to scoop all the goodies out of a bunch of smoke detectors, stuff it in a box and get some radioshack solar panels. Cram those in the box too. Put 2 in series so I should get 3V, and stick the wires on an LED. This LED should be lit for the halflife of whatever I stuff in the box, right? Unless this idea doesn't even work in the first place. I'm leery of those "cheap, revolutionary energy sources" I hear about, hence this is why I ask!

Offline Donaldson Tan

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Re:Nuclear Batteries
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2005, 02:57:33 PM »
the gist of harnessing nuclear energy is converting radiation energy into electricity.

isnt beta radiation a stream of electrons? it happens when a neutron in a nucleus decays to form a proton and give out an electron in the process. the new proton remained in the nucleus. there's no fission or fusion in the process.

the nature of the radiation (alpha, beta or gamma) depends on the radioactive element inside the lead box. your description suggests that the electrons released from the radioactive element hits the semiconductor and create a current. however, the idea of having a metal box to contain ions is dodgy. ions are unstable at ambient condition. Moreover, ions normally occur as an ion-pair where two oppositely charged ions group together in gasesous state to balance each other charge. there's no source of anion available to balance the formation of positive charge, if the electrons released are being directed out of the box through an electric circuit.
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Re:Nuclear Batteries
« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2005, 03:38:57 PM »
They already make "nuclear batteries".  There are a great number of people walking around this Earth right now who have some plutonium imbedded in their chest.  For these people, their pacemakers are powered by small plutonium batteries which should last their entire lifetime.  
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Re:Nuclear Batteries
« Reply #3 on: April 08, 2005, 07:29:06 PM »
i dont think it's beta radiation i could be wrong. after-all, i have limited knowledge on nuclear science.
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Re:Nuclear Batteries
« Reply #4 on: April 09, 2005, 10:36:08 PM »
Approximately how much Pu is in those batteries, is it present as a speck of Pu metal?

That would be a neat addition to a periodic table collection 8)
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Corvettaholic

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Re:Nuclear Batteries
« Reply #5 on: April 10, 2005, 10:56:03 PM »
So pacemaker wearer-ers already use this idea. Cool, it works. Now where would I find out how to scale that up in size? The interim goal here is the "forever LED". Well not forever, just for the halflife of whatever I use. I obviously can't get plutonium. Is there a special section of webelements that I should look at to see which radioactive element would suit my experiment the best? My mom would love some everlasting garden lights for mother's day, and I want a nuclear battery. Seems like this goes hand in hand  ;D

EDIT:
I was just browsing webelements again, and I ran across Actinum and Radium. Both are very bad for you. Webelements told me little other than they are "radioactive". Sometimes I got as far as some elements are good at putting out alpha (heavy, positive), or beta (lightweight, negative), or gamma (will shoot through a yak). For battery purposes, I want beta since I equate negative with electrons. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I most likely can't buy any of those fun elements. So for experimental purposes, smoke detector supplied americium will have to do. Webelements said that stuff is a good gamma emitter too though, which scares me. How much gamma is too much?
« Last Edit: April 10, 2005, 11:42:08 PM by Corvettaholic »

Offline ATMyller

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Re:Nuclear Batteries
« Reply #6 on: April 11, 2005, 05:46:06 AM »
Cassini, Voyager and Pioneer probes used a nuclear battery system called Radioisotope Thermal Generator (RTG).

RTGs are essentially a thermocouple attached to an atomic material, (generally low grade, equivalent to the energy released by a microwave over or less) that slowly decays, releasing a controlled amount of heat. The thermocouple converts the heat directly into electricty. Thermocouples are not efficient for large amounts of heat energy so they can't replace actual nuclear plants.
Chemists do it periodically on table.

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Re:Nuclear Batteries
« Reply #7 on: April 11, 2005, 08:18:37 AM »
Gamma radiation is one of those things where if you can reduce your exposure to it, it's good.  I guess it all depends on the energy of that gamma radiation.  Look at Rhenium-187.  It emits gamma rays, as do most radioactive isotopes, but they are PATHETICALLY weak.  As a result, it poses no danger.  Gamma rays are the result of the nucleus of the decomposing atom 'readjusting itself', so to speak.  The particles inside move around and form a less energetic state, and that excess energy is shot off as a gamma ray.  It is really difficult to find a radioactive isotope that doesn't emit gamma rays.  Also, the only real way to block gamma rays is with lead metal, and putting lead metal into the ground isn't a good thing to do.  (As the acid rain will slowly corrode the lead, and you don't want any lead being taken up by any plants or vegetables in the area).  Another thing you have to remember is that when dealing with radioactive isotopes, you have to be wary of criticality.  I'm fairly certain you wouldn't be going to that extreme, but if you were to put too much of one substance in too close of an area, you could have it go critical and that would be bad.  ;D
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Corvettaholic

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Re:Nuclear Batteries
« Reply #8 on: April 11, 2005, 08:39:33 PM »
I thought only Plutonium and Uranium-235 could go critical? Will other elements work with fission too, and do they have the same chain reaction? Never heard of other ones that do it. I've looked into RTG's, but from everything I've read they don't scale down very well. Only good for space probes and stuff like that. I've got a lot of military duty ahead of me this coming month, but when I get some free time I'm going to give it a go with americium and see what happens.

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Re:Nuclear Batteries
« Reply #9 on: April 12, 2005, 09:32:50 AM »
ANY isotope which decays by emitting a neutron (I.E can be fissioned) can go critical.  Neptunium can go critical, Uranium-233 can go critical, thorium can go critical, americium can go critical, I believe, and there are many more.
« Last Edit: April 12, 2005, 09:33:34 AM by jdurg »
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Corvettaholic

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Re:Nuclear Batteries
« Reply #10 on: April 12, 2005, 06:27:37 PM »
 :o

Didn't know that. Being the case, I would imagine that anything that has the capability to go critical, and therefore be good for my battery, is also highly regulared. Meaning, I can't get it easily. Further into that though, means I'm stuck harvesting the junk from smoke detectors. Are there any goodies I could glean from medical equipment besides high powered transformers/caps or laser tubes? ASU (arizona state) has a surplus area where they get rid of all sorts of goodies for cheap! Also you can get neat stuff through government liquidation.

EDIT:

About the critical thing of americium... I don't want that to happen. I assume every element is different in how much is needed to form a critical mass. Suppose I could have multiple small cells so the stuff doesn't get close enough to be considered critical. I'm going to assume going critical shouldn't be a worry with the very small amounts i'll be working with?
« Last Edit: April 12, 2005, 06:28:52 PM by Corvettaholic »

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Re:Nuclear Batteries
« Reply #11 on: April 12, 2005, 07:26:52 PM »
Exactly.  To go critical you generally need a large amount of the substance.  You need around 10 kg of Pu to go critical, though amounts as low as 6 kg can go critical if the bomb-maker is insanely good.  Neptunium takes about 34 kg to go critical, and basically, if you have enough of an isotope for it to go critical, just being near it would irradiate you to death.
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Corvettaholic

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Re:Nuclear Batteries
« Reply #12 on: April 12, 2005, 08:27:40 PM »
So if I die, then I know I had too much! It's failsafe.

From all your suppliers for your element collection, do any of them sell anything I could use for the battery? I browsed the link section, all the stuff I looked at in webelements... they didn't have. Probably for good reason. So is there any hope of a legal channel to get what I need?

Mr. Pink

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Re:Nuclear Batteries
« Reply #13 on: April 17, 2005, 03:27:10 AM »
i wouldnt worry too much about americium 241 (im assuming that's what you'll be using becuase of its availibility) because if you got enough of it to make a critical mass, putting you hand within the range of the alpha radiation would instantly give you a radiation burn. If you some how do acuire enough radioactive material ("hello, chemical supply store? i need about 50 kg of plutonium, preferably of reagent grade") to pose a neutron hazard, i recommend alternating peices of you material with peices of cadmium.

Below (or perhaps above, i dont know where this attachment is ending up) is my plan for a nuclear battery. First, the Americium emits alpha radiation, which then hits the copper-activated Zinc sulphide, emitting a glow, just like in radium watches. Because the Americium salt and the Zinc salt are in a mixture, almost all of the alpha radiation emitted by the Am hits the ZnS, making visible light. The visible light then hits a sillycone (i like spelling it that way) solar panel, making energy. The quarts is there so that visible light from the Am and ZnS hits the sillycone, but not alpha. This is a design (but they used a more sane alpha emitter) that is used by some for small electronics that barely use energy, such as a watch, or a pacemaker, or something like that. And also, they didnt use silicone solar panels, they simply used a sheet of silicone with a transparant conductor sandwiched between it and the quartz.

By the way, on the subject of solar panels, a company is now developing a new solar panel that not only absorbs infrared, red, yellow, orange, and green, as silicone panels do (did you notice that they are blue? its becuase they reflect blue, these ones are black), but also some ultraviolet, making lots and lots of electricity. It is also cheap and easy to make, and can even be painted on to a surface.

EDIT: Turns out it's below.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2005, 03:35:28 AM by Mr. Pink »

Corvettaholic

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Re:Nuclear Batteries
« Reply #14 on: April 18, 2005, 03:12:16 PM »
I like that design, that is a LOT like what I was thinking of minus the ZnS. What about trying to directly use beta particles, or is americium 241 a crappy beta emitter? Also, think it'd be possible to get even a couple grams of Americium without raising red flags?

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