Paul van Gerven
15 January

China’s Betavolt has announced a nuclear-energy battery based on nickel. Targeting applications such as aerospace, medical devices and autonomous sensors, the atomic battery delivers 100 microwatts at 3 volts and is claimed to have a lifespan of fifty years. Despite the low power output, the startup concept could eventually power smartphones, putting an end to recharging.

Betavolt radioactive battery
Betavolt’s battery measures 15 x 15 x 5 millimeters. Credit: Betavolt

Atomic or nuclear batteries are nothing new. They’re particularly useful for systems that need to operate unattended for extended periods, such as spacecraft and military surveillance equipment. Until lithium-ion batteries became a better alternative, they also powered pacemakers.

Betavolt’s innovation is the use of nickel-63 in a commercial betavoltaic device, which harnesses beta-radiation to generate an electric current in semiconductor materials (alternatively, thermal atomic batteries extract power from the heat coming off radioactive materials). Advantages of nickel-63 include a long half-life (about 100 years) and the relatively mild nature of the emitted beta-radiation, preventing it from damaging electronics and human tissue.