updated 04:25 pm EDT, Tue October 2, 2007
The US Air Force Research Laboratory has revealed a new battery technology that could effectively end the need to constantly recharge notebooks, handhelds, and other portable devices in the near future. Called a betavoltaic battery, the advancement would be based on silicon chips but take advantage of the decay from radioisotopes to catch beta electron emissions, using their electricity to power the chips and generate a steady, powered current. Though it would use a decaying substance, the battery would not be radioactive and would be extremely efficient; the energy released is so strong that a notebook could run for 30 years before requiring a new charge, says one estimate.
The technology would have additional side benefits, according to the research lab. Battery reactions are non-thermal and so would not generate the heat that adds to the overall temperature of a given device or could trigger fires. The radioisotope, an extraction layer, and the semiconductors are all thin and could allow for extra-thin shapes. Users could also dispose of the battery themselves since the entire compound would be non-hazardous.
Despite its government-funded nature, the betavoltaics project is intended to be used both by the military and the public at large, and should be turned into a commercial product within two to three years. No companies were specifically included as part of the announcement. [via Next Energy News]