The prototype was put together by specialists at the university’s Department of Semiconductor Electronics and Physics with, as its innovative feature, a unique 3D structure.
Most similar prototypes have applied isotopes from above on a smooth semiconductor surface, with most of the energy lost when the radiation originates from all sides. The NUST academics placed isotopes inside the semiconductor in microchannels to prevent the energy from dispersing without effect.
And they produced a converter not out of costly diamond but, rather, from inexpensive silicon. And the battery is one-third the size of alternative versions. Its specific power is 10 times greater and its unit cost only half as much.
The basis of the battery still uses costly materials – like nickel-63 isotope at about $4,000 a gram – not naturally occurring and produced only artificially. The process involves to stages of enrichment: initially in a centrifuge with nickel-62 and subsequently in a reactor with nickel-63.
A highly enriched substance is required to produce a sufficiently powerful battery. And Rosatom is working on technology capable of achieving enrichment at a rate of 80 curies per gram (Ci/g). That rate is four times greater than comparable models.
Nuclear batteries could well become an ideal back-up power source for use in space or Arctic exploration.