Chinese-developed nuclear battery has a 50-year lifespan
by Mark Tyson  /  1/14/24

“Chinese company Betavolt has announced an atomic energy battery for consumers with a touted 50-year lifespan. The Betavolt BV100 will be the first product to launch using the firm’s new atomic battery technology, constructed using a nickel-63 isotope and diamond semiconductor material. Betavolt says its nuclear battery will target aerospace, AI devices, medical, MEMS systems, intelligent sensors, small drones, and robots – and may eventually mean manufacturers can sell smartphones that never need charging. Buying an electronics product that can go without charging for 50 years would be amazing. But the BV100, which is in the pilot stage ahead of mass production, doesn’t offer a lot of power. This 15 x 15 x 5mm battery delivers 100 microwatts at 3 volts. The company says multiple BV100 batteries can be used together in series or parallel depending on device requirements, and Betavolt has plans to launch a 1-watt version of its atomic battery in 2025.

The new BV100 is claimed to be a disruptive product on two counts. Firstly, a safe miniature atomic battery with 50 years of maintenance-free stamina is a breakthrough. Secondly, Betavolt claims it is the only company in the world with the technology to dope large-size diamond semiconductor materials, as used by the BV100. The company is using its 4th gen diamond semiconductor material here. In its press release, Betavolt says its atomic battery is very different from similarly described power cells developed by the US and USSR in the 1960s. It says that the old nuclear batteries were large, dangerous, hot, and expensive products. For example, some old-tech atomic batteries used Plutonium as the radioactive power source. Meanwhile, the Betavolt BV100 is claimed to be safe for consumers and won’t leak radiation even if subjected to gunshots or puncture.


The new, improved levels of safety stem from the choice of materials. Betavolt’s battery uses a nickel-63 isotope as the energy source, which decays to a stable isotope of copper. This, plus the diamond semiconductor material, helps the BV100 operate stably in environments ranging from -60 to 120 degrees Celsius, according to the firm. Betavolt boasts that this battery technology is “way ahead” of European and American academic and commercial institutions. How does Betavolt make this battery? We’ve already mentioned the essential materials, but the above diagram provides an excellent overview. The BV100 is made by “placing a 2-micron-thick nickel-63 sheet between two diamond semiconductor converters.” This construction relies on Betavolt’s “unique single-crystal diamond semiconductor that is just 10 microns thick.” So, the current BV100 or its 1-watt successor scheduled for next year may not sound so impressive regarding peak power output. Betavolt will be well aware of devices with a greater thirst for power and teases that it is investigating isotopes such as strontium-90, promethium-147, and deuterium to develop atomic energy batteries with higher power levels and even longer service lives – up to 230 years.”

China Getting Serious About Nuclear Commercial Ships Again
by Brian Wang / December 26, 2023

“China has designed the world’s first large containership with a nuclear Molten Salt reactor. The design was developed by Jiangnan Shipbuilding, a division of the Chinese state-owned China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC). They reported that DNV issued an Approval in Principle (AiP) certificate for the design. Nuclear commercial ships would save a lot of on fuel (perhaps $50 million per year on average). Mass production of nuclear commercial ships would eliminate a lot of air pollution and would enable to China to have military and commercial reactors for a nuclear navy. Nuclear ships would be faster and would not need refueling in ports which would again generate more revenue and save on costs. China has classified the details of its efforts with thorium-based reactors because of the potential military applications. China however highlights that it has an abundant and less expensive supply of thorium meaning that it could be a cost-effective and zero-emission alternative for shipping and other industries. The thorium would be used as a safer alternative to uranium-based reactors.

Nextbigfuture has examined high speed nuclear commercial shipping many times over the years. A 2009 study of the economics of nuclear power for commercial shipping. The study showed that a nuclear ship would be $40 million per year cheaper to operate when bunker oil is at $500/ton. Currently, bunker fuel is about $580-640 per ton. CSSC writes in a statement posted to Weibo, “This type of ship has high safety as the reactor operates at high temperatures and low pressure, meaning it can avoid in principle core melting.” They highlight that the thorium reactor would not require high-pressure containers and pipelines as the reactor does not use large amounts of water for cooling. In the event of an accident, the core solidifies at ambient temperature, and in addition to normal shutdown methods, CSSC writes that the salt fuel can also be quickly discharged from the reactor to prevent spreading. The concept design is for a 24,000 TEU containership, which they are calling the world’s largest nuclear-powered containership. Other safety features they reported include the location of the reactor, which was not explained. CSSC highlights that the concept adopts a “double-sided redundant design.” Reporting on the presentation at a conference in China, the South China Morning Post says China got the first thorium-based molten salt reactor running earlier this year during a test in the Gobi Desert.

The U.S. demonstrated the first commercial nuclear propulsion ship, the now long-ago retired ns Savannah. Russia continues to operate a nuclear-powered commercial ship while several projects are exploring Molten Salt reactors placed on barges or ships that could be positioned to provide power in remote areas or for emergency recovery operations. There are currently over 160 ships are powered by more than 200 small nuclear reactors. These are primarily navy submarines and aircraft carriers. At the end of the Cold War, in 1989, there were over 400 nuclear-powered submarines operational or being built. At least 300 of these submarines have now been scrapped and some on order cancelled, due to weapons reduction programs. Russia and the USA had over 100 each in service, with the UK and France less than 20 each and China six. The total today is understood to be about 150, including new ones commissioned. Most or all are fueled by high-enriched uranium (HEU). The world’s merchant shipping is reported to have a total power capacity of 410 GWt, about one-third that of world nuclear power plants.With a new focus on powering ships with hydrogen or ammonia, nuclear power also has a potential role in providing the hydrogen. Container ships deliver around 90% of all goods globally. With around 53,000 merchant vessels, the global shipping industry is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters globally, producing approximately 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) – while consuming around 6% of the total global oil production annually – accounting for about 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2014 two papers on commercial nuclear marine propulsion were published* arising from this international industry project led by Lloyd’s Register. They review past and recent work in the area of marine nuclear propulsion and describe a preliminary concept design study for a 155,000 dwt Suezmax tanker that is based on a conventional hull form with alternative arrangements for accommodating a 70 MWt nuclear propulsion plant delivering up to 23.5 MW shaft power at maximum continuous rating (average: 9.75 MW). The Gen4Energy power module is considered. This is a small fast neutron reactor using lead-bismuth eutectic cooling and able to operate for ten full-power years before refuelling, and in service last for a 25-year operational life of the vessel. They conclude that the concept is feasible, but further maturity of nuclear technology and the development and harmonisation of the regulatory framework would be necessary before the concept would be viable. In 2021 it was suggested that modular molten salt reactors of about 100 MWt would be particularly suitable for marine propulsion due to ambient operating pressure and low-enriched fuel. Shipping company X-Press Feeders has invested in UK-based Core Power, which is promoting modular molten salt reactors for marine propulsion. Since 2020 Core Power has been involved with Southern Company and Terrapower in the USA developing the molten chloride fast reactor as a marine MSR which would never require refulling during its operational life. In June 2021 Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI) announced that it would partner with Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) to develop compact molten salt reactors to power ships as well as market offshore power plants.

In January 2023 SHI completed a conceptual design for the CMSR Power Barge – a floating nuclear power plant based on compact molten salt reactors. The design of between 200 MWe and 800 MWe, developed by Danish company Seaborg Technologies, would have an operational lifetime of 24 years. SHI plans to commercialize the CMSR Power Barge by 2028.Apart from naval use, where frequency of refuelling is a major consideration, nuclear power seems most immediately promising for the following:
* Large bulk carriers that go back and forth constantly on few routes between dedicated ports – e.g. China to South America and NW Australia. They could be powered by a reactor delivering 100 MW thrust.
* Cruise liners, which have demand curves like a small town. A 70 MWe unit could give base-load and charge batteries, with a smaller diesel unit supplying the peaks. (The largest afloat today – Oasis class, with 100,000 t displacement – has about 60 MW shaft power derived from almost 100 MW total power plant.)
* Nuclear tugs, to take conventional ships across oceans.
* Some kinds of bulk shipping, where speed may be essential.

In mid-2021 the World Nuclear Transport Institute (WNTI) announced the launch of the Maritime Applications & Nuclear Propulsion Working Group, to discuss and develop rules frameworks for the deployment of next-generation reactors at sea. This is to include nuclear propulsion, floating nuclear power plants, offshore small modular reactors used for hydrogen production and maritime transport of SMRs.”



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