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'30 Year Laptop Battery' is Unscientific Myth

Zonk posted about 7 years ago | from the be-nice-though-wouldn't-it dept.

Power 322

An anonymous reader wrote to mention the wonderful news: "A research group funded by U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory is developing a battery which can provide continuous power to your laptop for 30 years! Betavoltaic power cells are constructed from semiconductors and use radioisotopes as the energy source..." Except, not so much. ZDNet's Mixed Signals blog with Rupert Goodwins explains why (as always) if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is: "The sort of atomic structures that generate power when bombarded with high energy electrons are the sort that tend to fall apart when bombarded with high energy electrons. While solar cells have the same problem, it's to a much lesser extent. There's a lot of research into making materials that don't suffer so much, but it remains a serious issue ... while it's true that a tritium-powered battery will eventually turn into an inert, safe lump of nothing much, and while it's also true that a modest amount of shielding will keep the radioactivity within the the battery the while, there's the small problem that if you break the battery during its life the nasties come out."

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I think.. (4, Funny)

z0idberg (888892) | about 7 years ago | (#20821915)

the nastiest came out and broke your grammar checker.

Re:I think.. (4, Funny)

z0idberg (888892) | about 7 years ago | (#20821939)

and my preview button.

Back in my day... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20822101)

When I was young, before the first war, we didn't have them fancy grammar checkers or spelling checkers. When we had a paper due for our teacher, we had to look up the ASCII codes manually (most of us memorized like our multiplication tables) while punching holes in cards to feed into our mechanical computer. The grammar and spelling checker was YOU! We didn't have batteries. We had to power our computers by connecting them to mills near powerful dams. And we liked it! Then we had to manually ink our ribbon before printing. And when we went to school, we often lost our papers because it was so cold. And the roads were uphill both ways!

Get off my lawn!

*shakes cane*

Laptop? (5, Funny)

The Aethereal (1160051) | about 7 years ago | (#20821923)

Yeah, my lap is exactly where I want to put something radioactive.

Re:Laptop? (4, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | about 7 years ago | (#20822007)

Meh. It's a beta emitter; beta radiation is completely harmless to humans as long as you have a nice layer of skin between you and it.

However, when it gets into the body it is EXTREMELY harmful, so the worry is that people will break the batteries open and release toxic crap into the environment where it can be inhaled/ingested.

Re:Laptop? (3, Funny)

tomhudson (43916) | about 7 years ago | (#20822063)

> "Meh. It's a beta emitter; beta radiation is completely harmless to humans as long as you have a nice layer of skin between you and it.

However, when it gets into the body it is EXTREMELY harmful, so the worry is that people will break the batteries open and release toxic crap into the environment where it can be inhaled/ingested.

So if you thought laptop battery fires were dangerous before, these are a terrorist wet dream made to order ...

Re:Laptop? (5, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | about 7 years ago | (#20822235)

It's not significant really. The amount of tritium in this, even concentrated, is pretty low, and would make a really poor weapon...On the order of throwing florescent bulbs at someone to try to poison them with Mercury vapor. It also disperses pretty quickly, so the lasting effect is minimal in the area.

Tritium is available in the environment already; it's a naturally occurring isotope of hydrogen, and it's half life is pretty low (~12 years).

Re:Laptop? (0, Troll)

tomhudson (43916) | about 7 years ago | (#20822555)

Actually, the mercury in CF bulbs is going to be a significant problem. Even the mercury from current flourescents http://72.14.205.104/search?q=cache:Wpsa9wiDeWcJ:www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/promotions/change_light/downloads/Fact_Sheet_Mercury.pdf+disposal+of+fluorescent+bulbs+mercury&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=ca&client=firefox-a [72.14.205.104] needs a bit of care in handling.

Also, I'm finding that the "newer" CF bulbs have lower light output and greatly reduced lifetimes. On average, they're now burning out quicker than even the cheapest conventional light bulbs. A order of magnitude more expensive to buy, doesn't last as long, and puts mercury into the environment ... every solution seems to bring with it more problems :-(

Re:Laptop? (1)

dascritch (808772) | about 7 years ago | (#20822677)

Go tell this to US' National Stupidity Department

Here in France, 1 capacitor are not sold anymore in stores.... but you can find ones in old laundry machines. Have you ever tried to overcharge one ?

Re:Laptop? (1)

dascritch (808772) | about 7 years ago | (#20822717)

sorry... i said 1 Ohm capacitor, but the omega symbol (and everything out of US-ASCII) is filtered here. perhaps time come to make non-english quotes in sigs, hu ?

Re:Laptop? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20822787)

On the order of throwing florescent bulbs at someone to try to poison them with Mercury vapor.
Sir, your ideas intrigue me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

Re:Laptop? (1)

petermgreen (876956) | about 7 years ago | (#20822109)

tritium is a weak beta emmitter and because hydrogen is so common you need a lot of it before a significant ammount of the hydrogen compounds in you body start to contain it.

Generally the really nasty stuff from a biological point of view is the rare elements that the body concentrates.

Re:Laptop? (1, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | about 7 years ago | (#20822307)

Yea, I overstated the beta emitter case...Lot of beta emitters are commonly used in medical imaging, because they can be tracked and they don't stay in the body, so you're not getting a long term dosage.

Tritium is commonly used in a lot of places. If your wristwatch glows in the dark, it's probably tritium.

Re:Laptop? (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | about 7 years ago | (#20822303)

yes that's true but suppose we synthesized polyethylene from a mix of tritium substituted ethylene and normal ethylene, it would produces heat as the tritium in the polymer decayed and at the same time act as its own shielding and containment. people that broke open the battery would need to go out of their way to ingest the material. it would be a fairly large chunk that you an't just "eat"

Re:Laptop? (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | about 7 years ago | (#20822357)

Shrug. I'm not against tritium batteries. Most of the studies I've seen on them have had the tritium encapsulated in a honeycomb-like matrix, to maximize storage, and energy generation.

That would seem to make it a lot less likely that you'd have any significant amount of tritium released by accident, and breathing vapor off a burning battery is harmful regardless of whether its an atomic battery or just a metal laden lithium battery.

Re:Laptop? (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 7 years ago | (#20822393)

Meh. It's a beta emitter; beta radiation is completely harmless to humans as long as you have a nice layer of skin between you and it.

That's not true. Tritium is a weak beta emitter that is easily blocked by skin. Other beta emitters like [32]P are much stronger and can be dangerous.

Eh. (2, Interesting)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | about 7 years ago | (#20822695)

They can be dangerous, but the precautions recommended for working safely, even with high energy, low half-life beta emitters like Phosphorous-32, are usually things you'd do anyway. People are already really irrational about radiation; if you say "dangerous" they think, "Melt your face off/make you sterile" not "Wear gloves and goggles."

Beta emitters (especially like [32]P) are bad news if consumed, but as long as there is something in between you and it, you're probably fine.

Re:Laptop? (1)

Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) | about 7 years ago | (#20822439)

Well its clear that we should make these kinds of poisons readily available to the public through dell and bestbuy!

Re:Laptop? (1)

somersault (912633) | about 7 years ago | (#20822639)

Yeah because the chemicals in other batteries are completely safe to ingest/crack open and rub on your skin. When will people stop with the sensationalist garbage!! Almost had me worried too until someone pointed out that this is the type of radiation that won't even penetrate/damage your skin..

Re:Laptop? (1)

BlueParrot (965239) | about 7 years ago | (#20822591)

The problem with that logic is that as beta radiation is stopped, the electrons ( beta particles ) emit bremsstrahlung, more commonly known as X-rays. Thus even if you can easily stop the beta radiation itself, the secondary X-rays could be an issue. This is not much of a problem for a small sample of beta-emitter, but if you have enough of it to power a laptop, then it starts becoming a concern.

If you are going to generate large quantities of energy from radioactive decay, then ideally you want a sample which emits a lot of alpha radiation, does not produce large amounts of gamma or bremsstrahlung , and is readily produced in quantities. Perhaps a bit ironicly, one of the safest compounds to use for this is Plutonium-238, which is almost a pure alpha-emitter, produces a lot of energy per decay, and has a halflife in the region where it is readily useful.

Of course, because people will confuse it with Plutonium-239 ( which unlike Pu-238 can be used for nuclear weapons ), and because there is a good old myth that "plutonium is the most toxic compound on earth", it is rather unlikely that Plutonium-238 will ever go into consumer electronics. Doesn't stop NASA from using it in satellites and their Mars probes however. Gotta love politics...

Re:Laptop? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20822023)

Is that a cellphone in your pocket?

Re:Laptop? (1)

Trent Hawkins (1093109) | about 7 years ago | (#20822263)

just try carrying THAT laptop on to a plane.

Embrace Change (5, Funny)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | about 7 years ago | (#20822285)

Don't be so afraid of radiation.

A larger pool of mutants means more chance of a favorable adaptation, right?

We can't be so selfish - think of the children.

Everyone talks about evolution but nobody does anything about it.

Somehow (1)

Don853 (978535) | about 7 years ago | (#20821927)

I was able to tell this before reading the article.

Re:Somehow (1)

plover (150551) | about 7 years ago | (#20821977)

For me, it started when Zonk invoked "Goodwin's Law".

Sounds like a Star Trek Episode (5, Funny)

alexj33 (968322) | about 7 years ago | (#20821941)

Mr. LaForge: We're trapped by the aliens!

Wesley Crusher: Wait! We only need to realize that the sort of atomic structures that generate power when bombarded with high energy electrons are the sort that tend to fall apart when bombarded with high energy electrons.

Mr. LaForge: That.... could.... destabilize the aliens death ray....!

Wesley: Yeah, just like in the academy.

Picard: Make it so.

Re:Sounds like a Star Trek Episode (1)

CRCulver (715279) | about 7 years ago | (#20821981)

But where does reversing the polarity of the electron beam come in?

Re:Sounds like a Star Trek Episode (2, Funny)

andphi (899406) | about 7 years ago | (#20822115)

Several hundred times a second.

Re:Sounds like a Star Trek Episode (2, Funny)

ColdGrits (204506) | about 7 years ago | (#20822203)

"But where does reversing the polarity of the electron beam come in?"

It doesn't.

However, the 3rd Doctor was oft fond of "reversing the polarity of the neutron flow".

Target market (2, Insightful)

omgamibig (977963) | about 7 years ago | (#20821963)

It might be too dangerous for the masses, but that sure doesn't scare the military. So what's the problem again?

Re:Target market (1)

elrous0 (869638) | about 7 years ago | (#20822015)

Even the most efficient nuclear sub won't run for anywhere near 30 years.

Sub != Laptop (4, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | about 7 years ago | (#20822161)

The power demands are wildly different between a fricking SUB and a fricking LAPTOP. The power generation is also far different; subs have active fission piles, they're literally mobile nuke reactors.

Atomic batteries, on the other hand, are just storage for existing nuclear material. They generate electricity as part of the radioactive decay process, either by using the heat generated by the decay, or by harvesting the incident energy of the decay process.

Types of radioisotope batteries (like RTG's [wikipedia.org] ) have been used in the space program forever.

Re:Target market (1)

stonecypher (118140) | about 7 years ago | (#20822191)

That it doesn't work.

Ok. (2, Insightful)

AltGrendel (175092) | about 7 years ago | (#20821965)

...while it's also true that a modest amount of shielding will keep the radioactivity within the the battery the while, there's the small problem that if you break the battery during its life the nasties come out."

That's generally true anyway.

Up with Tritium! (1)

lindseyp (988332) | about 7 years ago | (#20821975)

Well up until this point a battery had the potential to give you mere burns on your lap. Now it can help you with family planning! ... on a more serious note. Tritium is not a particularly dangerous thing to have leak. It finds the shortest route up and out of harms way anyway.

Cons and wishful thinking (2, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | about 7 years ago | (#20821979)

Anytime anyone promises a leap in technology with an order of magnitude of improvement, it's almost always BS. Think about it, the only two possible exceptions to this in the whole of the 20th century were the atomic/hydrogen bombs and possibly the internet. Con men always give themselves away by promising too much (You're not only going to make a profit by giving your money to me, you're going to make a 10000% return!).

Re:Cons and wishful thinking (2, Insightful)

isa-kuruption (317695) | about 7 years ago | (#20822159)

Only the atomic bomb and the Internet? Wow, your history is really limited. The internet would have never come to be if it wasn't for this thing called the transistor. In fact, the transistor is probably the biggest invention in the 20th century changing everything about everything. Even other inventions before the invention of the transistor were significantly changed with the transistor, e.g. flight (lead to space flight), mass production (lead to automated, robot-based assembly lines), automobiles (computerized engine management systems, airbag systems)... and I can keep going.

Re:Cons and wishful thinking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20822279)

Don't exaggerate. Plenty of technologies were working fine with tubes. The most significant thing was electrification.

10X improvement (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | about 7 years ago | (#20822185)

Airplanes. Data transmission rates and electronics in general. Gold when compared to the dollar. Sensitivity of photographic film. All improved by at least 10X during the 20th century.

Re:10X improvement (1)

Wain13001 (1119071) | about 7 years ago | (#20822269)

But did this 10x improvement happen with one invention or alteration of the technology?

I think that was OP's point...not that things don't improve by magnitudes over time, but that they don't tend to suddenly, out of the blue have spontaneous breakthroughs that create massive improvements all at once.

Re:Cons and wishful thinking (1)

NeilTheStupidHead (963719) | about 7 years ago | (#20822651)

I'm afraid I have to disagree on the internet point. The 'net' evolved from a variety of systems already in place over a couple of decades on the short side. I would say that a better second choice for a leap in technology would be the transistor [wikipedia.org] .

...um.... (5, Funny)

i_b_don (1049110) | about 7 years ago | (#20821991)

I don't know about you ... but for ANYTHING radioactive that I'm going to be sticking on my lap I want more than a "modest" amount of shielding thank you very much.

don

Re:...um.... (1)

maxume (22995) | about 7 years ago | (#20822291)

Pretty much anything you might stick on your lap is radioactive.

Good thing that not much of it is dangerously radioactive though.

Scary tag (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20822319)

betaparticlesonyourtesticles -Those battery "incidents" in flight, during conferences etc. should get livelier as well...

Duh! (1)

rolfwind (528248) | about 7 years ago | (#20821995)

Crap, if there were such a thing as a 30 year battery, eletric cars would be no problem along with a lot of other applications that are more important than a notebook, though I would worry about the amount of energy in my lap.

Also, if it had a 30 year charge already built in, I would have to wonder what they would have sold it for?!

Re:Duh! (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 7 years ago | (#20822343)

Not quite true. There are 30-year batteries, and have been for a long time. Both betavoltaic and radioisotope thermoelectric generators fit this description. The problem is that, while they might produce a lot of energy, they don't generate much power. A small betavoltaic cell is going to give a power output on the order of milliwatts. RTGs tend to be higher power than betavoltaics, but since they use isotopes that decay more energetically they need a lot more shielding, which increases their size and weight. A few Soviet lighthouses were built with RTGs. They are great for applications where you don't want to have to supply them with fuel for a long time, but if you want a decent amount of power you need a lot of shielding, or not to put humans too near them. Betavoltaics are a lot safer, since pretty much anything stops beta radiation, but the higher-power beta sources also emit a lot of gamma radiation, which is a lot more of a problem. Now, if you could tune a photovoltaic cell to the wavelength of the gamma ray, you might have a good system, but since this was proposed in the '50s and no one has managed to get a working version that blocks enough of the gamma rays to be useful, I'm not holding my breath.

Hold the phone... (4, Funny)

R2.0 (532027) | about 7 years ago | (#20822013)

Did an editor ACTUALLY CHECK on the facts of a story before posting?

Cue the porcine aviators...

Re:Hold the phone... (1)

porcupine8 (816071) | about 7 years ago | (#20822337)

I thought I was the only one who noticed. Huzzah for actual editing!

Re:Hold the phone... (2, Funny)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 7 years ago | (#20822375)

It's a tenth anniversary thing. The editors are showing is what Slashdot might have been. Tomorrow they'll post a story that is still recent enough to count as news. Next week it will be back to normal.

Use the heat (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | about 7 years ago | (#20822017)

That means a 25 watt battery will get plenty warm.
Very useful in cold weather. I imagine several of the climbers who died on Everest wouldn't have if they had one of these with them.

Anyway, I don't think civilians will ever see these, but the military will find uses.

Re:Use the heat (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 7 years ago | (#20822125)

They'd have needed a lot more than "one of these". 25 watts of heat (75 BTU) at -50 in a 50mph wind? Pack thousands of them, and use them to block the wind or build a shelter, maybe ...

Re:Use the heat (1)

networkBoy (774728) | about 7 years ago | (#20822165)

Actually I think most of the deaths on everest are related to falls and embolism, not hypothermia.

Re:Use the heat (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20822795)

and they could've also checked facebook!

The Einstein rule (5, Insightful)

lawpoop (604919) | about 7 years ago | (#20822041)

Anytime you see a reference to Einstein, or the e=mc^2 equation [nextenergynews.com] , there's a good chance that the exciting new technology is bunk.

. The reason the battery lasts so long is that neutron beta-decay into protons is the world's most concentrated source of electricity, truly demonstrating Einstein's theory E=MC2.
Can we formalize this rule? It could be as important as Godwin's for understanding internet discourse.

Re:The Einstein rule (1)

_14k4 (5085) | about 7 years ago | (#20822149)

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a solution to the energy issues of the world, involving e=mc^2 or Einstein, approaches one.

Unless, however, the author expounds on the solution with maximal use of LaTeX.

Re:The Einstein rule (4, Funny)

fredrikj (629833) | about 7 years ago | (#20822245)

Yes, let's call it lawpoop's law. That sounds really good.

Re:The Einstein rule (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20822295)

How about

"Any purported science material on the Internet that makes reference to e=mc^2 is actually marketing material, and should be treated as such (i.e. a filthy lie that only a drooling imbecile would take seriously)".

Re:The Einstein rule (1)

Linker3000 (626634) | about 7 years ago | (#20822325)

So, according to the article (which I didn't read, naturally), if the amount of energy available from the battery decreases over time AND we can ensure the battery pack has a constant mass, as the battery ages, the square of the speed of light will DECREASE and so the battery will travel through time at a slower rate than the user.

Conversely, as we charge the battery it will shoot forwards in time.

Something's bound to assplode!

Re:The Einstein rule (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20822437)

Anytime you see a reference to Einstein, or the e=mc^2 equation, there's a good chance that the exciting new technology is bunk. Can we formalize this rule? It could be as important as Godwin's for understanding internet discourse

Only at slashdot and the other 3 real nerd sites. Well, I guess the 100,000 faux nerd sites [cnet.com] could use it, too.

-mcgrew [kuro5hin.org]

What pissed me off on that was this assumption: (3, Insightful)

ahfoo (223186) | about 7 years ago | (#20822043)

That in sending radioactive products into the marketplace you could assume consumers would then take responsibility to make sure the products were disposed of properly.
        That part was what really disgusted me when I saw that story yesterday. If the serious plastic waste problems in the oceans don't provide ample evidence that you can't control where products end up then there are hundreds of other examples including groundwater contamination in countries across the globe from selenium and other fun stuff that are essential in consumer electronics yet toxic when dispersed into the environment at the end of their useful lives which tend to be numbered in months rather than years with defective by design components like capacitors that have shelf lives like groceries.
        I googled it a bit and I read that the half life in these things was like twelve hundred years. Maybe I was missing the dot in there and it was only twelve years but even so that's far longer than the life of a consumer electronics device.

Re:What pissed me off on that was this assumption: (1)

petermgreen (876956) | about 7 years ago | (#20822195)

tritium isn't that bad really, sure people mention the radioactivity bogyman but it is a pretty weak beta emmitter and being such a common element organisms don't tend to concentrate it.

i'd imagine a lot of the chemicals that end up in consumer products while not radioactive are considerablly more dangerous to living things.

Re:What pissed me off on that was this assumption: (2, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | about 7 years ago | (#20822233)

I googled it a bit and I read that the half life in these things was like twelve hundred years.
12.5 years not 1200. this isn't an unreasonable number when you consider people can use the battery long after the device it was originally in is in the local city dump. especially if there is a bit of a cost to them, which there likely is. if they do throw it away, the radiation will decrease by nearly 300 fold in less than 100 years. we can make containers good enough to survive at least that long in a dump and certainly in the military where it's likely to be used more. a solution might be to imbed a beta-emitter isotope in a polymer that acts to absorb the beta radiation, no radiation release, relatively cheap and still allows the device to function. contains the ratioactive isotope for decades and keeps idiots from releasing radiation into the environment.

Re:What pissed me off on that was this assumption: (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | about 7 years ago | (#20822405)

Granted that tritium isn't particularly bad, but things in dumps tend to get ground up and sometimes burned. Gasseous tritium will float away and not be too much of a problem, but tritium (in place of normal hydrogen) made into compounds will stay with the compound, at least until it decays. Thus, it's important that the materials or the containers be reasonably protected for a few decades.

Re:What pissed me off on that was this assumption: (5, Insightful)

Verte (1053342) | about 7 years ago | (#20822265)

On the other hand, the Lithium in your current battery will remain deadly forever.

Re:What pissed me off on that was this assumption: (2, Funny)

aproposofwhat (1019098) | about 7 years ago | (#20822739)

My Lithium's not deadly - it's all that keeps my bipolarity at bay, you insensitive clod!

Re:What pissed me off on that was this assumption: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20822779)

Exactly! The problem here is that many people are just analyzing the danger of tritium, rather than comparing it to our current materials. Unless we are planning to not use batteries in the coming years, then the only question is whether a tritium-based battery is more or less harmful to the environment than our current battery designs (lithium, etc.).

I think a properly designed tritium battery could actually be considerably safer for the environment, in the long-term, than current battery designs.

Have you ever heard of a comma? Or a period? (1)

R2.0 (532027) | about 7 years ago | (#20822289)

I thought I was fond of run-on sentences, but that was pretty silly.

Re:What pissed me off on that was this assumption: (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 7 years ago | (#20822299)

Think of it - Americium-241 (the radiation source in smoke detectors) has a half-life of 432.7 years. It gets tossed into the land fill after just a few years.

Re:What pissed me off on that was this assumption: (1)

cmdrpaddy (955593) | about 7 years ago | (#20822305)

Standard fire alarms contain radioactive material as far as I can remember and they aren't that big a enviromental hazard. I suspect because people put them up and never take them down, especially when they're broken. Nothing like the feeling safe.

Re:What pissed me off on that was this assumption: (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 7 years ago | (#20822449)

The half life of tritium, used in most betavoltaics, is around 9 years, not 1,200. Not sure where you got that figure from (I didn't Google, I looked it up in a book). If you have a problem with tritium being put in consumer products, I suggest you start complaining about glowing key fobs, which have used tritium for a while, or about smoke detectors.

Re:What pissed me off on that was this assumption: (1)

MiniMike (234881) | about 7 years ago | (#20822551)

Put a 10 cent rebate on it, you won't see a single one lying around.

It's still safer than.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20822047)

It's still safer than putting a macbook pro on your genitals ;)

Just Remember Tritium is Water Soluable (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20822083)

And to take a shower/bath if your power pack leaks. :)

Obligatory response: I, for one, (1)

Veetox (931340) | about 7 years ago | (#20822053)

welcome our new, nasty overlords...

Safety? (1)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | about 7 years ago | (#20822091)

There have been so many reports of exploding/leaking/igniting laptop batteries that it makes me wonder how dangerous these could be. I sure wouldn't want a battery that leaks radioactive material in my lap.

30-year-battery unrealistic for another reason (1)

danlock4 (1026420) | about 7 years ago | (#20822103)

Since when has a laptop (or computer of any type) *needed* 30 years of power?

Re:30-year-battery unrealistic for another reason (1)

Hanners1979 (959741) | about 7 years ago | (#20822249)

They have to allow for the probable boot time of the successor to Windows Vista.

Re:30-year-battery unrealistic for another reason (1)

danlock4 (1026420) | about 7 years ago | (#20822273)

I was, of course, referring to personal computers and computers capable of being replaced. :-)

Re:30-year-battery unrealistic for another reason (1)

AcidLacedPenguiN (835552) | about 7 years ago | (#20822505)

since I decided to stream a small sample of my porn collection to the interweb.

Re:30-year-battery unrealistic for another reason (2, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 7 years ago | (#20822669)

Interesting question: How much battery life does a laptop need?

The obvious answer is the lifetime of the laptop. For me, that would be about three-four years. A lot less than thirty. Even that is a bit long though. I may use a laptop for three years, but I don't use it away from mains power for three years. Most days, I sleep somewhere with mains power so I could easily charge it overnight. If I sleep 8 hours a day, then 16 hours of battery life would be enough. This doesn't count travelling, however. If I am travelling, I may go for a few days between charges. Two days of the laptop being on all of the time I am awake would be 32 hours, which is less than an order of magnitude more than I get already. As long as it's a battery that can be charged easily, a 32 hour battery would see most of my power needs quite nicely.

not the only nuclear battery (4, Interesting)

wizardforce (1005805) | about 7 years ago | (#20822113)

the article is correct that radiation destroys semiconductor efficiency although not all "nuclear battery" designs involve semiconductors. space probes sometimes use a chunk of radioactive material that has shielding around it while the energy released is in the form of heat. this heat [temperature gradient] is harnessed by a thermoelectric materal- basically it consists of several layers of different metals that produce a voltage potential in response to a temperature gradient. the advantage in this is that you can use metal as shielding and not relatively fragile semiconductor material. although you need a radioisotope that can generate enough heat from decay to be useful- tritium's half-life is about 12 years so it might qualify, although a better solution might be a solid unless they use T2O, ditritium monoxide, which is "superheavy water"

Think about it... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20822119)

Who would want a 30 year old lap top?

Re:Think about it... (1)

everphilski (877346) | about 7 years ago | (#20822621)

a 40 year old virgin (laptop collector)?

Voyager satellites (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 7 years ago | (#20822139)

Those two have now been going for more than 30 years, but I don't want to put their batteries on my lap, or get millions of them in land fills around the world, leaching into the ground water.

Re:Voyager satellites (1)

LOGINS SUC (713291) | about 7 years ago | (#20822309)

Exactly the comment I was going to make. But in addition to the batteries aka small nuke generators, those satellites, loaded with semiconductors, are CONSTANTLY BOMBARDED by solar and cosmic radiation, yet miraculously they still work... Must be black magic. On another note, the original article was the viability of the battery/generator itself, NOT how stupid user would take care of it or dispose of it. I wish the comments would stay on topic, the first bullet from the

Important Stuff
when posting a comments.

Re:Voyager satellites (1)

R2.0 (532027) | about 7 years ago | (#20822327)

I would think that environmental problems of the batteries are trivial compared to when one of them comes back loking for its creator.

Oh, and it's not a "satellite", fer chrissake.

It's Tritium (2, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | about 7 years ago | (#20822519)

And it's already in your groundwater. Tritium is Hydrogen-3, and though it's not (obviously) the most common form of hydrogen in our environment, it does exist naturally. It doesn't bind to your body if you drink it, which makes it a lot better than a lot of crap that ends up in our water, and it has a short halflife, so assuming that the batteries manage to hold together for the supposed 30 years, the amount of radioactive material available to leak out into the environment will have already dropped by more than 200%.

Voyager didn't use tritium batteries; they wouldn't have been powerful enough, or long lasting enough.

I wouldn't worry more about using this stuff (if it works) than a lithium battery. They both have their dangers. People are so damn paranoid about radiation; this is better than a lot of stuff we expose ourselves to everyday, without a thought.

Where's the original press release? (1)

dtolman (688781) | about 7 years ago | (#20822169)

The article (two links in) is so vague, it could be talking about anything. I suspect it could be some sort of work on a smaller, more efficient RTG, but who could tell beyond all the baseless day dreams?

Radiological terrorism made easy... (0)

gweihir (88907) | about 7 years ago | (#20822189)

Face it, thereis no way to encapsulate high-powerd radiological substances so nobody can get at them. But if people can get at them, the same stuff that lets it produce energy also will kill humans when finely distributed into air, water or the like. For this reason, no such battery will ever be available on the open market.

Note to self: (1)

MeditationSensation (1121241) | about 7 years ago | (#20822215)

If I want to perpetrate a scientific fraud, I need to make it not sound *too good* to be true, but still sound pretty good.

Someone always says it can't be done.... (1)

isa-kuruption (317695) | about 7 years ago | (#20822217)

They also said no one could fly, that flight was just wishful thinking, and I'm sure they had a million "scientific" reasons for it. I think someone in 1900 would have thought it scientifically impossible to have mobile devices that emulated telephones that allowed us to talk to someone while driving our cars.

I guess my point is, unless we strive for the great achievements, then then we will be limited to minor improvements. Some of the most useful things came from "thinking big".. such as the Microwave. Maybe we'll never get a 30 year battery, but who knows what will come out of it's research, not just related to batteries.

Power Source Info (1)

y86 (111726) | about 7 years ago | (#20822219)

From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotopes/ [wikipedia.org]

Uses

Radionuclides are used in two major ways: for their chemical properties and as sources of radiation. Radionuclides of familiar elements such as carbon can serve as tracers because they are chemically very similar to the non-radioactive nuclides, so most chemical, biological, and ecological processes treat them in a near identical way. One can then examine the result with a radiation detector, such as a geiger counter, to determine where the provided atoms ended up. For example, one might culture plants in an environment in which the carbon dioxide contained radioactive carbon; then the parts of the plant that had laid down atmospheric carbon would be radioactive.

In medicine, radioisotopes are used for diagnosis, treatment, and research. Radioactive chemical tracers emitting gamma rays or positrons can provide diagnostic information about a person's internal anatomy and the functioning of specific organs. This is used in some forms of tomography: single photon emission computed tomography and positron emission tomography scanning.

Radioisotopes are also a promising method of treatment in hemopoietic forms of tumors, while the success for treatment of solid tumors has been limited so far. More powerful gamma sources sterilise syringes and other medical equipment. About one in two people in Western countries are likely to experience the benefits of nuclear medicine in their lifetime.

In biochemistry and genetics, radionuclides label molecules and allow tracing chemical and physiological processes occurring in living organisms, such as DNA replication or amino acid transport.

In food preservation, radiation is used to stop the sprouting of root crops after harvesting, to kill parasites and pests, and to control the ripening of stored fruit and vegetables.

In agriculture and animal husbandry, radionuclides also play an important role. They produce high intake of crops, disease and weather resistant varieties of crops, to study how fertilisers and insecticides work, and to improve the production and health of domestic animals.

Industrially, and in mining, radionuclides examine welds, to detect leaks, to study the rate of wear, erosion and corrosion of metals, and for on-stream analysis of a wide range of minerals and fuels.

Most household smoke detectors contain the radionuclide americium formed in nuclear reactors, saving many lives.

Environmentally, radionuclides trace and analyze pollutants, to study the movement of surface water, and to measure water runoffs from rain and snow, as well as the flow rates of streams and rivers. Natural radionuclides are used in geology, archaeology, and paleontology to measure ages of rocks, minerals, and fossil materials.

Dangers

If radionuclides are released into the environment, through accident, poor disposal, or other means, they can potentially cause harmful effects of radioactive contamination. They can also cause damage if they are excessively used during treatment or in other ways applied to living beings. This is called radiation poisoning. Radionuclides can also cause malfunction of electrical devices.


Thats not so bad, however I would prefer a scooter with a 30 year power supply versus the laptop. An electric scooter can run on 17v and be VERY fast.

I hate that saying (0, Offtopic)

sayfawa (1099071) | about 7 years ago | (#20822239)

I read the article. It wasn't that interesting so I decided to rant about this saying instead.

The one that goes "If it sounds to good to be true, it probably isn't". There are numerous examples of new developments that have come along in our lifetime that sounded to good to be true when they first came out. Just because you or I or some layman journalist can't get our heads around how something beneficial works doesn't make it "too good to be true". Flying machines, fireless light and free porn with just a few clicks on our keyboard were all once considered too good to be true.

A couple things... (3, Interesting)

mlwmohawk (801821) | about 7 years ago | (#20822243)

When an old scientist says something is possible, he is probably right. When an old scientist says something is impossible he is probably wrong. (I'll let you ponder the seeming paradox, but you'd have to know some old scientists to really get it.)

We already have "dirty" nuclear materials in the hands of consumers: some types of smoke detectors, lead paint detectors, x-ray machines, and some other things.

If someone wanted to make a dirty bomb, a few thousand dollars worth of the right smoke detectors would do perfectly.

Blue-sky defense contractors (5, Informative)

curmudgeous (710771) | about 7 years ago | (#20822383)

Defense contractors are always coming up with wonderful sounding ideas that are completely impractical. For example, in 1999 a company called Stavatti presented the DoD a design for a portable laser rifle suitable for use by common infantry. The device was to be powered by...wait for it... polonium (PO-210). An excerpt from the proposal:

"...To increase the energy level of the CO2 N2 He gas mixture, a Zirconium-Nickel fuel rod approximately 40cm long and 1.8 cm in diameter containing approximately 740 grams (78cc) of Polonium-210 (Po-210) is contained within, and located down the centerline of, the cylindrical gas reservoir. The Po-210 provides a thermal energy source of approximately 141 watts/gram through the emission of alpha particles via the process of nuclear decay. This energy source provides a significant power density while alleviating the shielding requirements and apparent health risks associated with gamma ray emitting radionuclides. The presence of the Po-210 in the reservoir chamber will result in the delivery of approximately 104.34 kW to the CO2 N2 He gas mixture, thereby raising the gas to a state of thermal equilibrium corresponding to an internal reservoir pressure of approximately 272.1 atm, temperature of 2173.16 K and gas density of 44 kg/m3..."

You may recall that a few micrograms of PO-210 were used to kill that guy in London about a year ago, and this company has proposed putting .75 kg in a rifle that would be subject to damage, destruction and dispersal on the battlefield.

The paper describing the laser rifle can be found here:

http://209.85.165.104/search?q=cache:SEji6Jn6-4AJ:www.defensereview.com/352003/TIS1.pdf+pumped+polonium+laser+rifle&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us [209.85.165.104]

Still safer? (1)

VeteranNoob (1160115) | about 7 years ago | (#20822409)

So there's a risk of radioactivity leaking from the batteries?

Still sounds safer than Lithium-Ion laptop batteries supplied by Sony! Ba-duh, bum!

bit rot (0)

Verte (1053342) | about 7 years ago | (#20822587)

something tells me we'll need more ECC gear once we switch to those batteries.

But does it come with a geiger counter... (1)

McNihil (612243) | about 7 years ago | (#20822619)

...running Linux?

TSA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20822807)

Brilliant!

Who wants to be the first one to try to get a laptop with a radioactive battery (even a harmless radioactive battery) onto an airplane?
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