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Recently, for some reason, this story first published in January 2020 was again trending on social media (this appeared on my YouTube feed)But for a more quotable version, this version from The Independent) appeared in January:

NUCLEAR WASTE RECYCLED INTO DIAMOND BATTERIES WITH 'NEAR-INFINITE POWER'

One scientist from Bristol University who was involved with the project claimed in the article that:

"Eventually, a highly powerful version of a diamond battery could power a mobile phone," James Barker, from the University of Bristol's Faculty of Engineering, told The Independent.

The company website goes further, claiming that its technology will revolutionize batteries:

NDB can be used to further the electric vehicle revolution...

With NDB, every device you own, be it a smartphone or a laptop, can contain a miniature power generator, thus negating the need for constant charging...

And many other related claims.

The technology behind the claims involves capturing the energy released by the radioactive decay of carbon-14 derived from nuclear waste and turning it into electricity. So, strictly speaking, they are not "batteries" but an alternative source of power than is claimed to be able to replace batteries.

Are these claims remotely physically credible or total nonsense given the technology behind the batteries? For example, the firm claims they could power a mobile phone indefinitely: is that possible?

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    BTW it occurs to me that this might be better on Physics.se as the refutation might warrant back of an envelope calculations which are often disapproved of here. Happy to go with the community judgement. – matt_black Sep 1 '20 at 20:03
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    @Oddthinking I went with a generic claim in the title and a specific claim from the website in the body. Is that OK? – matt_black Sep 1 '20 at 21:59
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    Something you learn after watching battery-technology advances for a while: two or three times a year, someone comes up with a breakthrough that will revolutionize the battery industry. In the thirty years or so I've been watching, only two of those breakthroughs actually made it to market. – Mark Sep 2 '20 at 2:46
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    @matt_black: It is much better, but still vague. I read a battery expert complaining that a good rechargeable battery needed to have about ten qualities (high density, fast recharging, efficient, ability to hold charge, number of lifecycles, not being likely to explode, cheap, etc.) and there would often be big announcements because someone came up with a new technology that did very well in one of those qualities while being so terrible at the others it was unmarketable. Is that a "breakthrough"? Yes and no. – Oddthinking Sep 2 '20 at 8:57
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    @DanielRHicks Etymologically, you are correct; but in anything but the most specialist contexts, the word "battery" is used regardless of whether the internal structure consists of multiple "cells". I actually have no idea whether the batteries I use are a single cell or multiple, and it makes no difference to my use of them, so the distinction would serve no purpose. – IMSoP Sep 4 '20 at 13:23
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Already from the draft article appearing on Wikipedia you can spot the issue:

Its power density will be far lower than that of conventional chemical batteries

If they get to the market as they are now their applications would be restricted to a few cases filling small niches. The quote you added in your question:

Eventually, a highly powerful version of a diamond battery could power a mobile phone

highligts that current prototypes aren't even enough for a mobile phone. Regarding the claimed applications I see on their site:

Automotive

Even if the battery worked as a generator recharging the chemical batteries while the vehicle is parked, with such power density, their contribution would be negligible. Even increasing the power density by an order of magnitudes would not be enough.

Aerospace

Here they are nothing new. They have to compete with Radioisotope thermoelectric generators

Consumer electronics

Such battery would provide a small current continuous over time, it would have to be coupled with a chemical battery for the moments you talk or play a video. Will future mobile phones have room for two batteries?

Medical Technology / Industrial /Defense

Maybe, but we are talking about some niche applications, not a wide scale revolution

Another questionable claim is that they would be good to recycle nuclear waste, but nuclear waste contain a big number of different isotopes how many of them would be suitable? According to the article you linked until now they are planning to use Carbon 14.

Furthermore some isotopes are already used in Radioisotope thermoelectric generators, but not all the available material is exploited because the cost to refine the nuclear waste hardly repays the energy provided unless a special energy source is needed.

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  • The first wikipedia quote is vague. An actual calculation of the power density would be far clearer. Are we talking a factor of 2, 10 or a million? – matt_black Sep 4 '20 at 12:09
  • @matt_black I don't know whether they actually released a detailed information about power density. In this article they talk about it, but still with vague comments: techxplore.com/news/… – FluidCode Sep 4 '20 at 12:20
  • @matt_black The only released numbers I found are from a previous experiment: sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0925963517307495 – FluidCode Sep 4 '20 at 12:22
  • There is a good reason they didn't talk power density. Simple calculations of the power density of carbon 14 from its known radioactive properties would show their product claims to be extremely bogus. – matt_black Sep 4 '20 at 12:22
  • @matt_black other isotopes have higher power density, e.g. NIckel 63 tested by others, but generators of these types usually have small efficiency – FluidCode Sep 4 '20 at 12:25

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