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The Diamond Battery – your ideas for future energy generation

On Friday 25th November, at the Cabot Institute Annual Lecture, a new energy technology was unveiled that uses diamonds to generate electricity from nuclear waste. Researchers at the University of Bristol, led by Prof. Tom Scott, have created a prototype battery that incorporates radioactive Nickel-63 into a diamond, which is then able to generate a small electrical current.

Details of this technology can be found in our official press release here: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2016/november/diamond-power.html.

Despite the low power of the batteries (relative to current technologies), they could have an exceptionally long lifespan, taking 5730 years to reach 50% battery power. Because of this, Professor Tom Scott explains:

“We envision these batteries to be used in situations where it is not feasible to charge or replace conventional batteries. Obvious applications would be in low-power electrical devices where long life of the energy source is needed, such as pacemakers, satellites, high-altitude drones or even spacecraft.

“There are so many possible uses that we’re asking the public to come up with suggestions of how they would utilise this technology by using #diamondbattery.”

Since making the invitation, we have been overwhelmed by the number of amazing ideas you’ve been sharing on Facebook, Twitter and by email. In this blog, we take a brief look at some of the top suggestions to date, and offer some further information on what may and may not be possible.

10 of our favourite ideas (in no particular order!)


Medical devices


From ocular implants to pacemakers, and from insulin pumps to nanobots, it’s clear that there is a great deal of potential to make a difference to people’s lives in the medical field. Many devices must be implanted within the body, meaning long battery life is essential to minimise the need for replacements and distress to patients.

@rongonzalezlobo suggests that the #diamondbattery could power nanorobots which can be injected into a person or animal to sense and transmit information about the health of the individual to an external device. This could be particularly helpful to diabetes patients, for example.




@TealSkys also suggests they could be used to monitor vital signs in individuals in high-risk jobs such as explorers, military professionals or miners.



@JulianSpahr suggests we also investigate ICDs (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators- small devices which can treat people with dangerously abnormal heart rhythms) and DBS (deep brain stimulation - a surgical procedure used to treat a variety of disabling neurological symptom most commonly the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease).


The opportunities for implantable #diamondbattery powered devices appear to be significant.

GPS trackers or Geo-markers


GPS trackers are rating highly so far, and could offer an opportunity for us to keep tabs on pets or valuable items without worrying about device batteries running out of charge. Implantable devices using a #diamondbattery would not need to be replaced, minimising discomfort to tracked animals. Indeed, @Boomersaurus suggests we could also use these for tagging animals in wildlife studies.

In addition to Geo-tagging/ tracking, some of you have suggested that the #diamondbattery could be used to power permanent geomarkers.



The Internet of Things


A major concern surrounding the new wave of ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) technologies is the amount of power they might consume. IoT devices require a constant stream of power to transmit over wireless frequencies which could cause issues as these proliferate.

@CIMCloudOne suggests the #diamondbattery could become the new default for IoT devices in the future.



Safety and security


A number of you suggested that the #diamondbattery could be extremely useful in smoke detectors.
The US National Fire Protection Association states that 21% of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no working smoke alarms, where around 46% of the alarms had missing or disconnected batteries. Dead batteries caused one-quarter (24%) of the smoke alarm failures.

If feasible, this suggestion from @StarhopperGames could therefore not only prevent annoying late-night battery beeps, but may also help avoid preventable death.



However, a question remains as to whether the battery would be sufficient to power the alarm (and not just the detector).

@idbacchus suggested we use the #diamondbattery to power Black Box transmitters in aeroplanes to ensure it is possible to track and record planes for safety reasons.



Remote sensing


Many corners of our planet are far from civilisation and are inaccessible, complex environments. If we are to study the seas, or mountains (or indeed, space) effectively over long periods, low-powered devices with long-life batteries are required.
Many of you called for the use of these batteries in sea and remote location studies:



Seismology and building resilience


Seismic sensors that are located underground could help us to detect early warnings for earthquake risk.



Additionally, small sensors housed within the foundations of buildings/ within building walls may also prove helpful for indoor environment sensing, structural resilience, heat etc.


Mechanical bees


Whilst this is possibly the most futuristic of all the suggestions, we felt that it warranted a mention for innovation! @TheSteveKoch suggests a low-power #diamond battery might be able to power mechanical bees in the future.



Watches


It’s often impossible to know when a watch battery is about to run out, and when it does, it can feel disastrous to the owner. Perhaps a #diamondbattery watch could help people around the world avoid those missed appoints and trains in the future.



Space exploration


Of course, when we send devices out into space we need to know that they have sufficient battery life and sufficient levels of resilience to maintain operations for long periods. @johnconroy and others noted the opportunities for space probes and radio transmitters on the moon:



Bringing the internet to new areas


Finally, whilst it’s currently unclear what the power requirements would be for this idea, deployment of low power UAVs in remote areas to deliver free internet sounds like a highly worthwhile cause.




If you are inspired by these ideas and think you might have a suggestion for future diamond battery uses, send us a tweet at @cabotinstitute or @UoBrisIAC with the hashtag ‘#diamondbattery’.

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