A lack of effective power sources stunts the development of nanoelectronics. In Applied Physics Letters, researchers propose a new radioactivity-based power source, which is long-lasting, consistent, silent and maintenance-free. 63Ni is a radioactive isotope of nickel with a long half-life that emits beta particles during its radioactive decay. The researchers wanted to figure out a way to convert 63Ni’s beta-decay energy into electricity.

To do so, they made this first system using nickel-based close-packed nanoclusters. They deposited a thin film of stable nickel nanoclusters between 2 and 7 nanometers in size on a silicon dioxide substrate. An electric field ordered the charged nanoclusters according to size, from small to large. The researchers then shot electrons — a substitution for the beta particles emitted by 63Ni — at the film, generating secondary electrons that caused a cascade of repeated inelastic collisions, increasing the current. This unique system generates energy and converts it to electricity.

The researchers also observed electromotive force (emf) in size-ordered nickel nanocluster films for the first time, which is impossible in bulk metallic nickel. Estimates based on studying this system indicate that films made of 63Ni would work similarly.

When they actually make a size-ordered film made of 63Ni, the authors will likely be able to effectively convert the energy of the emitted beta particles into electric current, creating a betavoltaic device that would be an effective power source for micro- and nanoelectromechanical systems.

Source: “Size-ordered 63Ni nanocluster film as a betavoltaic battery unit,” by P. V. Borisyuk, V. P. Yakovlev, O. S. Vasiliev, Yu. Yu. Lebedinskii, V. V. Fetisov, T. I. Kozlova, and M. G. Kozodaev, Applied Physics Letters (2018). The article can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.1063/1.5010419.