"To provide enough power, we need certain methods with high energy density," said Jae Kwon, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Missouri (U-M).
Kwon and his research team are working on a small nuclear battery, currently the size of a penny, intended to power various micro/nano electromechanical systems (M/NEMS).
"The radioisotope battery can provide power density that is six orders of magnitude higher than chemical batteries," Kwon said.
"People hear the word 'nuclear' and think of something very dangerous," he said. "However, nuclear power sources have already been safely powering a variety of devices, such as pace makers, space satellites and underwater systems."
His innovation is not only in the battery's size, but also in its semiconductor. Kwon's battery uses a liquid semiconductor rather than a solid semiconductor.
"The critical part of using a radioactive battery is that when you harvest the energy, part of the radiation energy can damage the lattice structure of the solid semiconductor," Kwon said. "By using a liquid semiconductor, we believe we can minimize that problem."
Kwon has been collaborating with J. David Robertson, chemistry professor and associate director of the MU Research Reactor, and is working to build and test the battery at the facility.
In the future, they hope to increase the battery's power, shrink its size and try with various other materials. Kwon said that the battery could be thinner than the thickness of human hair. They've also applied for a provisional patent, said an U-M release.
Kwon's research has been published in the Journal of Applied Physics Letters and Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry.