A partnership between scientists at the University of Missouri-Columbia’s Research Reactor (MURR) and Qynergy Corporation has resulted in the development of a power cell that will provide continuous power for years.
The new betavoltaic power cells developed by the scientists have the highest energy conversion efficiency ever recorded for such cells. What’s more, the cells have the potential for continuously generating small amounts of electricity for nearly 20 years.
“In our research, we were able to obtain an energy conversion efficiency of 11%, while the highest success to date had only been 5%,” said David Robertson, associate director of research and education at MURR.
The technology used in betavoltaic power cells is similar to solar power generation, but uses radioisotopes as the energy source rather than sunlight. The cells use isotopes that are fully contained within the power cell – similar to the radioactive source found in many household smoke detectors – and can be used without external risk.
The technology transforms the energy of beta particles into electrical power – with the capacity to generate electricity for months or years, depending on the energy and half-life of the isotope used. The power cells, called QynCells, are rugged, safe and portable, and are capable of operating in harsh environments and extreme temperatures with no required maintenance.
“Our previous research at MURR that developed isotopes for radiopharmaceuticals made it an ideal place to develop and produce the isotopes needed for these compact power sources,” added Robertson.
The QynCell can be used as a stand-alone power source or coupled with a variety of power storage and power generation technologies, either to extend the overall power system lifetime or to generate extra power. Future work might lead to integrating the QynCells with super capacitors and rechargeable lithium ion batteries and using the technology for micro and nano systems.
The US Air Force is funding the development of QynCell designs for specific Department of Defense applications using two isotopes, promethium-147 and krypton-85, for devices with lifetimes ranging from one to 20 years and for power ranging from microwatts to tens of milliwatts depending on the needs and requirements of the specific application.