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Portrait of Jae Won Kwon

Jae Won Kwon File photo

Think about how many devices you come across each day that are battery powered. The list is almost endless, and for that reason, researchers and scientists constantly are searching for the next big improvement, the next battery breakthrough.

Engineers at the University of Missouri have managed just such an innovation. Jae W. Kwon, associate professor of nuclear engineering and electrical and computer engineering, recently had a paper titled, “Plasmon-assisted radiolytic energy conversion in aqueous solutions,” published in Nature. The paper outlined the first use of a water-based solution in a nuclear battery, creating a longer-lasting and more efficient power source.

In previous iterations of conventional nuclear batteries, the amount of radiation emitted would rapidly wear down semiconductors, thus diminishing the lifetime and capabilities of the battery. The new design proposed by Kwon’s team uses radiation to split the water molecules in an ionic solution, and the water also acts as a buffer, allowing for higher power production. The semiconductor, a nanostructured titanium dioxide electrode with a platinum coating, gathers and converts energy effectively into electricity.

“Reactors are using water because it absorbs energy very easily and dissipates it,” Kwon said. “It’s a very good medium to reduce radiation damage. The radiation energy should not be damaging the energy converting semiconductor. This liquid in-between will be generating an excited state, which keeps the intermediate energy strong and contributes to power generation.”

And, by using an ionized water solution, the range of potential applications for the battery increases. The solution freezes at a much lower temperature and boils at a higher one than what comes out of the tap, providing for potential use as a long-lasting energy source in space or in automobiles, among many other possible applications.