Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Silicon solution could lead to a truly long-life battery

11.05.2005


New devices may provide power for decades



Using some of the same manufacturing techniques that produce microchips, researchers have created a porous-silicon diode that may lead to improved betavoltaics. Such devices convert low levels of radiation into electricity and can have useful lives spanning several decades.

While producing as little as one-thousandth of the power of conventional chemical batteries, the new "BetaBattery" concept is more efficient and potentially less expensive than similar designs and should be easier to manufacture. If the new diode proves successful when incorporated into a finished battery, it could help power such hard-to-service, long-life systems as structural sensors on bridges, climate monitoring equipment and satellites.


The battery’s staying power is tied to the enduring nature of its fuel, tritium, a hydrogen isotope that releases electrons in a process called beta decay. The porous-silicon semiconductors generate electricity by absorbing the electrons, just as a solar cell generates electricity by absorbing energy from incoming photons of light.

Supported by grants from the NSF Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the University of Rochester, the University of Toronto, Rochester Institute of Technology and BetaBatt, Inc. of Houston, Texas, describe their new diode in the May 13 issue of Advanced Materials.

Researchers have been attempting to convert radiation into electricity since the development of the transistor more than 50 years ago. Mastering the junctions between relatively electron-rich and electron-poor regions of semiconductor material (p-n junctions) led to many modern electronic products.

Yet, while engineers have been successful at capturing electromagnetic radiation with solar cells, the flat, thin devices have been unable to collect enough beta-decay electrons to yield a viable betavoltaic device.

The BetaBatt will not be the first battery to harness a radioactive source, or even the first to use tritium, but the new cell will have a unique advantage - the half-millimeter-thick silicon wafer into which researchers have etched a network of deep pores. This structure vastly increases the exposed surface area, creating a device that is 10 times more efficient than planar designs.

"The 3-D porous silicon configuration is excellent for absorbing essentially all the kinetic energy of the source electrons," says co-author Nazir Kherani of the University of Toronto. Instead of generating current by absorbing electrons at the outermost layer of a thin sheet, surfaces deep within these porous silicon wafers accommodate a much larger amount of incoming radiation. In early tests, nearly all electrons emitted during the tritium’s beta decay were absorbed.

There were a number of practical reasons for selecting tritium as the source of energy, says co-author Larry Gadeken of BetaBatt - particularly safety and containment.

"Tritium emits only low energy beta particles (electrons) that can be shielded by very thin materials, such as a sheet of paper," says Gadeken. "The hermetically-sealed, metallic BetaBattery cases will encapsulate the entire radioactive energy source, just like a normal battery contains its chemical source so it cannot escape."

Even if the hermetic case were to be breached, adds Gadeken, the source material the team is developing will be a hard plastic that incorporates tritium into its chemical structure. Unlike a chemical paste, the plastic cannot not leak out or leach into the surrounding environment.

Researchers and manufacturers have been producing porous silicon for decades, and it is commonly used for antireflective coatings, light emitting devices, and photon filters for fiber optics. However, the current research is the first patented betavoltaic application for porous silicon and the first time that 3-D p-n diodes have been created with standard semiconductor industry techniques.

"The betavoltaic and photovoltaic applications of 3-D porous silicon diodes will result in an exciting arena of additional uses for this versatile material," says co-author Philippe Fauchet of the University of Rochester.

"This is the first time that uniform p-n junctions have been made in porous silicon, which is exciting from the point of view of materials science," says Fauchet. For example, because of its characteristics and photon sensitivity, each diode pore could serve as an individual detector, potentially creating an extremely high-resolution image sensor.

"The ease of using standard semiconductor processing technology to fabricate 3-D p-n junctions was surprising," adds co-author Karl Hirschman of the Rochester Institute of Technology. That manufacturing ease is an important breakthrough for increasing production and lowering costs, and it makes the device scalable and versatile for a range of applications.

"The initial applications will be for remote or inaccessible sensors and devices where the availability of long-life power is critical," says Gadeken.

The BetaBattery may prove better suited to certain tasks than chemical batteries when power needs are limited. The structures are robust--tolerant to motion and shock, and functional from -148° Fahrenheit (-100° Celsius) to 302° F (150°C)--and may never have to be changed for the lifetime of the device.

Josh Chamot | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Data use draining your battery? Tiny device to speed up memory while also saving power

The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.

Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...

Im Focus: An energy-efficient way to stay warm: Sew high-tech heating patches to your clothes

Personal patches could reduce energy waste in buildings, Rutgers-led study says

What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...

Im Focus: Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells

A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.

The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...

Im Focus: New Foldable Drone Flies through Narrow Holes in Rescue Missions

A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.

Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...

Im Focus: Topological material switched off and on for the first time

Key advance for future topological transistors

Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Data use draining your battery? Tiny device to speed up memory while also saving power

14.12.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Tangled magnetic fields power cosmic particle accelerators

14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

In search of missing worlds, Hubble finds a fast evaporating exoplanet

14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>