Is this really the new 50-year-old battery?

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Will this not happen? great if you Never Did you have to charge your cell phone? I'm sure many people were thinking the same thing recently, when a company called Betavolt said it had developed a coin-sized “nuclear battery” that would last for 50 years. Is it real? Yes it is. Will you be able to buy one of these forever phones soon? Probably not, unfortunately, because—well, physics. Let's see why.

All batteries do the same thing: they generate an electric current to perform some type of work. But energy is not free. If that task is playing music on your Bluetooth speaker, there must be something causing the energy drain. In a good old AA, a chemical reaction occurs to generate current. That chemical reaction doesn't last forever, so the battery will eventually drain.

In a nuclear battery, the energy source is a piece of radioactive material, and it will run like the Energizer bunny until the source ceases to be radioactive – which isn't forever, but it's a lot longer. These aren't really new. The Voyager 1 space probe, launched in 1977, has a nuclear battery. It's now more than 15 billion miles away, and it still has a bit of juice in it. That's pretty good mileage!

The specific type on Voyager is called a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, which is basically a big name for a piece of plutonium in a box. As plutonium decays, it converts mass into energy, producing heat. If you stick a solid-state device on it, the temperature difference between the hot and cold metals generates a voltage and causes an electric current.

It's kind of crazy that electricity can be generated from temperature difference alone, but you can make one at home by using some copper wire and a paper clip (without plutonium), placing one end in ice water and the other in hot water. You can test it by sticking it in water. This type of energy source is great for space probes because it has no moving parts, so it won't break down and it lasts for decades.

Now, this new battery announced by Betavolt uses a different technology called betavoltaic generation. Instead of harnessing thermal energy, it captures electrons, known as beta particles, emitted from radioactive isotopes of nickel to create an electrical circuit. It is made of several layers of nickel sandwiched between diamond plates, which act as a semiconductor. There are lots of cool things to see here, so let's dive in.

What happens in radioactive decay?

Nickel-63 is an isotope of a stable version of the element nickel-58. That number is the atomic mass – the total number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus of the atom. Nickel-63 has five extra neutrons, making it unstable. Over time, one of those extra neutrons will disintegrate into a proton and generate a new electron. With an extra proton, the atom will now be copper-63, the next element in the periodic table. This nuclear reaction produces energy, causing electrons to fly out of the atom at high speed.

It is important to know that the rate of radioactive decay is not constant; This depends on the number of atoms of material present, so the production of electrons decreases rapidly over time. In the case of nickel-63, half the atoms will decay in about 96 years – we say its “half-life” is 96 years.