A US-based startup called Nano Diamond Batteries (NDB) is claiming that it has developed a new kind of battery that would turn radioactive waste materials into safe, usable batteries suitable for use in everything from smartphones to spaceships. What’s more, it claims its irradiated batteries won’t ever need charging. From what I can tell, this isn’t a late April Fools’ joke, so let’s see what’s going on here.
The basic idea is that radioactive materials, by definition, give off radiation and heat energy. NDB is using radioactive graphite — a problematic waste product of nuclear power plants — sandwiched between ultra-thin (“nano” thin) layers of polycrystalline diamond. The nano-diamond layers not only insulate against the leakage of radiation, but absorb and quickly transfer the heat energy of the radioisotopes. That thermal energy is then managed by “internal vents,” with that heat transfer being utilized to produce an electric current.
Now, I fully agree that this all sounds like typical scammy-startup bulls**t, but these type of polycrystalline layers have proven to be incredibly durable in radioactive environments. That’s part of why they’re used in radiation detection assemblies, where the inhospitable environment does not permit conventional materials to survive for the periods desired. So, if it is all bulls**t, it’s at least Star Trek-level plausible bulls**t that maaaybe deserves a second look. I mean, mobile communications, scanners, and touchscreens were all sci-fi stuff a generation ago, right? Let’s watch NDB’s own video explaining its power cell, then see what we think.
Nano Diamond Battery | The Cell
I mean, I don’t really know what that really was, but you know how the old Carl Sagan saying goes: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The question is, then, do a poorly produced YouTube video and a jargon-heavy website really constitute “extraordinary evidence”?
In fairness, it should be noted that NDB did successfully complete a “proof of concept” test at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where NDB’s radioactive battery tech manage a 40% charge collection. That compares favorably to the 15% charge collection efficiency generated with technology using commercially available diamonds, according to Tech Crunch. On that evidence, NDB claims it has signed on its first two beta customers. They weren’t named, but NDB called one, “a leader in nuclear fuel cycle products and services,” and the other, “a leading global aerospace, defense and security manufacturing company.”
So, there’s that.
Is NDB Another Theranos?
What follows here is pure opinion — and fully my own opinion, as far as I can tell. NDB seems to have a great idea here, but so did Theranos. Theranos was a tech darling that famously claimed to be able to run multiple lab tests using absurdly small amounts of blood, in absurdly short amounts of time. Huge names got involved, and Walgreens put Theranos into its retail medical clinics really early on, giving the company even more PR and marketing clout. In the end, Theranos raised billions, but turned out to be bulls**t, and the company’s CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, is facing 20 years in prison for various charges of fraud. The whole Elio Motors debacle, too, should have taught the entire automotive space something about claims that sound too good to be true that are based on over-simplified logic and industry jargon. All of which is to say: this whole radioactive battery seems pretty sketchy to me.
Who am I, though? Nobody, that’s who. But you guys? You’re probably somebody, so what do you think? Is this a great way to deal with existing nuclear waste, or a terrible, terrible idea — if it even works at all!? Let us know how happy you’d be driving around in a car loaded up with radioisotopes in the comments section at the bottom of the page. Enjoy!
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