Monday, January 18, 2010

How Nuclear Power Can Provide Electrical Energy for Micro Devices

When you hear of the word "nuclear," you immediately think about huge explosions, mushroom clouds, and deadly radiation. That's true and that's the bad side of nuclear, or atomic, energy. But if you look at the bright side, it is a major source of much of the developed world's electricity. That's coming from nuclear power plants. But did you know that nuclear energy is also now powering devices that are microscopic in size? With this technology, it's now possible to make utility devices that run for 25 years or so without the need for the batteries to be changed.

The nuclear energy is courtesy of betavoltaics technology. Basically, betavoltaics are batteries that harvest energy from radioactive substances, like tritium or Promethium-147. They sound nasty, but in betavoltaics, the radiation levels are so low they only provide nanowatts of lectricity. If you can't imagive that, try a billionth of a watt. A watt, of course is a unit of power. Ever seen a seven watt bulb glow? If you can imagine that, then you can imagine the glow that one watt can give. Divide that by a billion and you now have an idea how much energy a betavoltaics battery can give.

So, if betavoltaics can only deliver such low energy, what is it good for? Widetronix is a company that is pioneering betavoltaics technology. It is reaserching on stacking betavoltaic to compound the electricity output and provide enough power to enable Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) devices like implants that can monitor a person's health or track a military aircraft. Theoretically, these stacked betavoltaic chips can give up to one microwatt of power - that's a millionth of a watt. It's still low, but it's actually already a big improvement from a billionth of a watt.

For now, experiments with betavoltaics are ongoing on tamper-proof electronics of military gadgets developed by Lockheed Martin. If you can't tinker with them, with a screwdriver, they can't be sabotaged, unless the whole thing is yanked out - but then that would disable the device. Commercial applications are set for release in 2011. These will likely be components to larger devices for communications. Consumers won't even know they're there.

Click on the images to visit the Widetronix site.

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