No Charge, Nuclear Power for Mobile Devices

| August 7, 2013 | 3 Comments
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Douglas Alexander 125x125We all know that energy is the key factor that keeps the world’s economy going. From chemical energy in food comes muscle energy in the body. The muscle movement drives the arm and hand that designs the equipment that digs the wells that release fossil fuels that are available for some finite time and in some finite supply.

If you think about the supply chain, fossil fuels are somewhere in the production materials and processes of the solar, nuclear, and wind equipment. I hear someone say “hydro electrical” and I have to ask the question, so what energy was used to mine the raw resources that went into the building materials of the massive turbine equipment that converts the mechanical energy of moving water into electricity? Look carefully and you will note that the wires that carry that electricity to the end user are covered with a fossil fuel derived composition for insulation material.

When we think of nuclear power, we think of “clean” power generated on massive sites with cooling towers and secure buildings that could be the site of a ground zero melt down, wiping out entire cities in a short period of time. But what if we could incorporate nuclear power into a mobile phone or tablet. The supply chain impact would be nothing less than staggering.

For several years research groups at Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin have been working on harvesting the incredible amount of energy released naturally by minute grains of radioactive material. The terminology for the practical application of this technology is a “nuclear microgenerator.”

Presently, this technology is being used to energize a self-powered light sensor for optical communications. The integrated circuit contains a processor, a photodiode, and a very thin radioactive film characterized by an energy density thousands of times that of standard lithium-ion batteries. With the new innovations based upon microelectromechanical systems, (MEMS) these micro-miniature nuclear power sources could power MEMS devices for decades.

This technology does not require fission or fusion. Comprised of radioactive particles of nickel-63 or tritium, the nuclear energy could power the MEMS devices, but would not be dangerous to humans. The particles could not even penetrate the outer layer of dead skin as the measured penetration depth is only about 20-25 millionths of an inch. A simple plastic cover would be sufficient to house these tiny nuclear sources.

At the present time, the small nuclear batteries could not power an entire cell phone or tablet, but there are developments underway that could combine these nuclear sources such that they could be used as trickle chargers for existing rechargeable battery emplacements.

In other words, while the normal recharge cycle for a standard cellphone may be daily, the inclusion of a radioactive energy source into the cellphone housing, could eliminate the requirement to plug in your phone for the standard recharge cycle and extend the cycle to months rather than days. As the technology matures, we may see the day when the batteries will never require an external source for recharging.

Last night I counted all my battery powered stuff beginning with flashlights and mobile devices and ending up with power tools and appliances. At any one time, I have about 74 batteries installed. Since half of these are primary or non-rechargeable, I am making frequent trips to the store to resupply. The global demand for batteries is predicted to reach about 74 billion dollars in 2015. The market share for rechargeable batteries by 2015 is anticipated to be about 82.6 percent compared to non-rechargeable market share.

Without being a killjoy, I would like to hope by 2015, that these numbers are completely wrong due to the implementation of nuclear aided mobile power sources. Think about it. If you never had to recharge your iPad, phone, or flashlights, how many batteries would they have to make. The answer is one per device per lifetime. I hope to see this in my lifetime.

Category: Featured Blogs, New Products, News Analysis, Power, Purchasing Today, Uncategorized

Comments (3)

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  1. News Desk says:

    Leave it to Douglas to look five steps forward on the next power source! I’d like to see solar perfected before nuclear…then again, nuclear, at least in the EU, is pretty well established.
    But I think the idea of radioactive anything in a consumer item is going to set consumer watchdogs and the anti-nuke crowd into action. Thoughts?
    Barb Jorgensen

    • Barbara…You are absolutely right about the watchdogs and the safety screening requirements. I know I would not want to wear a nuclear powered watch of I thought my hand was going to drop of in 10 years time. But, if the nature of the particles are such that their penetration power is insufficient to get through the top layer of already dead skin cells, then I think a simple plastic enclosure would not be a show-stopper in introducing this new tech. Look at nano-materials in skin creams in wide use today. The nano bits are small enough to penetrate human cell walls and yet nobody is stopping the marketing of cosmetics using this technology. It is not even a labeling requirement. Never mind that the FDA or EPA has no authority over the self-regulating cosmetic industry. Even the watchdogs on this tech are basically impotent because it is a “their word against our word” scenario where no definitive lab research has been performed and no standards established. I suspect we will see the market introduction of nuclear batteries with only cursory, selective research to disarm the naysayers in advance. So saith the almighty buck.

  2. Many households have common radiological appliances: the Microwave ovens and the Smoke Detector. And for you oldtimers, the glow-in-the-dark minute-and-hour hands on your analog watches.

    With this precedence, it’s hardly a stretch to imagine a radioactive film energy source. Just as long as the environmental impact of production/distribution can be mitigated.

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