30-Year "Betavoltaic" Battery Hoax

Watch out for this term: "betavoltaic battery". The site "Next Energy News" is promoting a story about the technology purporting that a betavoltaic battery has been created that could power a laptop for 30 years.
Your next laptop could have a continuous power battery that lasts for 30 years without a single recharge thanks to work being funded by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. The breakthrough betavoltaic power cells are constructed from semiconductors and use radioisotopes as the energy source. As the radioactive material decays it emits beta particles that transform into electric power capable of fueling an electrical device like a laptop for years. ... If all goes well plans are for these cells to reach store shelves in about 2 to 3 years.
Horseshit. If the AFRL had built a new magic battery that could power things for 30 years, don't you think it would be the top bit of news on their site? Scientists Invent 30 Year Continuous Power Laptop Battery [NextEnergyNews.com]
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30 Responses to 30-Year "Betavoltaic" Battery Hoax

  1. Anonymous says:

    @#14: “Since over 95% of the energy released is heat, not electricity”
    Actually, no, the proportion is probably just the opposite since the energy is released as moving electrons, which directly make electricity once properly captured.
    The process is a non-thermal conversion process.
    See http://peswiki.com/energy/PowerPedia:BetaVoltaic
    or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betavoltaic

  2. Joel says:

    If you’d like to read a scientific article on this topic, I found one. Its DOI is 10.1063/1.2172411 (which can be used at, e.g., dx.doi.org).

    It reports an efficiency of 4.5%, and an output power of 0.58 microwatts. The isotope used here is 33P.

    A laptop uses about 45 watts, so yes, it would take a thousand of these, but that’s only about 30 cm x 30 cm, or plates taking up the whole back surface of the laptop. Not a whole house-full.

    Since over 95% of the energy released is heat, not electricity, your lap would be hot even if you carried enough lead to keep it from getting “hot”: 900 watts would feel like nine 100-watt lightbulbs resting on your pant leg.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Well as for why this isn’t on their website, that is because no one goes to that website, let alone reads it. The Air Force isn’t concerned really about publicizing much of anything, and you want to know why? Because of people that snark at just about anything in the media anymore.

    On another note, still love your site.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Could be using an uncommon isotope of a common element. Properties of pure isotopes has been a hot area of reseach.

    As for safety, low-energy beta particles are stopped by a millimeter of lead.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Maybe this is interesing:


    ‘way too complicated for me

  6. Anonymous says:

    Everyone seems to be making a lot of guessing and using misguided data.

    Just take their word for it for now.

  7. Funkenstein says:

    I agree, Joel. Any site that has a Free Energy section featuring “overunity” devices and “perpetual motion” machines is immediately suspect.

  8. OpenYourMind says:

    And furthermore,there’s really nothing new about an atomic battery.They already had them back during the 1950’s and 60’s. It’s just that only in more recent times have they perfected them and made them better.The betavoltaic is perfectly safe and I would not be afraid to use it to power my computer or any of my other electronic gadgets.

  9. the specialist says:

    hmmm, am i the only one concerned here about ‘beta particles’ and ‘radioisotopes’ in my LAP(top)?????


  10. Tubman says:

    @#22: You’ve misunderstood what non-thermal conversion applies to. It simply means that isotopic decay results in electrons and no heat. However, unless you can capture those electrons with 100% efficiency – and even the most wildly optimistic figure I’ve seen so far is only 25% – that energy has to end up somewhere, and there are only two possible ways of dealing with it:
    i) waiting for the battery to explode
    ii) giving off heat.

  11. Anonymous says:

    hes never said that the betavoltaic battery is a hoax, he’s saying that the betavoltaic battery being developed at the AFRL is a hoax

  12. stevew says:

    This was initially done in the 1960s to power remote sensors and satellites to this day like the Keyhole spy sats. A radiation source for heat and thermocouples to change heat into electricity. They exist and are large. NASA redesigned a miniature version in 2004 http://www.techbriefs.com/content/view/807/32/

    Ah, the problem would be you’d need to use it in a pool of water filled with ice cubes and it would fade your genes.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Actually, if each one outputs 0.58 microwatts, you need 100,000,000 (one hundred million) of them to get 58 watts.

    If a thousand of them take up 30cm^2, then you need 100,000 such areas. The total area is over 3000 square feet, which is a pretty good-sized house.

  14. bardfinn says:

    The article is misleading, stating that the supposed battery doesn’t use fission but then later states the energy source is when a neutron decays to a proton – which is beta decay.

    It states that tritium is generated in the process.

    This battery, even if it could be put into production, seems to use either tritium as the power source (half-life ~12 years) or lithium-6 or lithium-7 (which produce tritium when bombarded by energetic neutrons, which begs the question /where are the energetic neutrons coming from/ ); All three are considered to be precursor materials for nuclear weapons, with import/export highly controlled in the US, and all three are dangerous to human health when consumed/ingested/inhaled.

  15. Tubman says:

    It’s not a hoax, it’s just crappy journalism. It’s true that a betavoltaic battery could pump out power for 30 years, and it’s true that it can produce a whole lot of power in that time,but where things break down is when you ask how much power it actually produces at any given moment. These things produce energy constantly, whether you need it or not, and power output over time is determined by the half-life: when you reach the half-life you get only half the power that you did when it was made. Will this still be enough to power your laptop? If not, the battery’s not dead but it’s still useless. If it is enough, how are you getting rid of the excess heat in the first years of the battery’s life?

  16. Joel Johnson says:

    God bless you readers, each smarter than me.

  17. cautionyou says:

    Mod Converter can convert the .mod files recorded by most popular digital camcorders.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Nothing new:


    (Can’t you get to Google today or something? :P )

    • Joel Johnson says:

      I don’t have time for Google. I’m a blogger!

      So yeah, point is, it’s great, game changer, etc. So where is it? My point, poorly stated, probably, is less about the technology, of which I obviously know nothing, than it is the story being tossed around, sourceless, by Next Energy News.

  19. cha0tic says:

    I’m surprised no-one picked up on this.
    “…dedicated to leading the discovery, development, and integration of warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace forces.“(My emphasis.)

    An interesting phrase.

  20. Tubman says:

    @#9, Joel: if that .58 microwatts is correct you won’t need a thousand to get to 45 watts, you’ll need around 75 million.

  21. C. Grossmeier says:

    What they may have failed to state was that the size of source of radioisotopes required to produce the amount of power consumed by a laptop would need to be the size of a house. Maybe they can make electricity from a radioisotopes, but not enough to power a laptop and fit into a usable package size.

  22. Anonymous says:

    There`s even a patent for a similar apparatus:


    althought that patent talks about _alpha_ emissions, not beta ones.


  23. Anonymous says:

    “hmmm, am i the only one concerned here about ‘beta particles’ and ‘radioisotopes’ in my LAP(top)?????”

    Dude, you have beta particles and radioisotopes passing through (and radiating from) your entire body at any given moment.

  24. OpenYourMind says:

    The closed-minded ignorance of this conservative American society these days and all the skeptical naysayers never cease to amaze me.Why don’t they do their homework and get more informed about things before making assumptions? With people like this,we’ll never solve problems like energy or water or anything else.What ever happened to the Yankee Ingenuity America used to be famous for? What ever happened to the country that once sent astronauts to the Moon? Little wonder why foreign competition like the Japanese are beating our socks off.When they are in competition with a bunch of ignorant and illiterate conservative redneck Republicans,it’s not even much of a real contest for the Japs.

  25. OpenYourMind says:

    Not that I care much for ignorant and lame liberals and their anti-nuke nonsense either.I’m not one iota afraid of having a betavoltaic powered laptop sitting in my lap.Wooo!!! I’m scared to death of a Chernobyl and Three Mile Island battery meltdown in my lap!!!

  26. Anonymous says:


    No, he’s implicitely saying that the “new magic battery” -his words- is fake too. With a little Google’ing, he would have found that the principles of such batteries were first demonstrated in 1913.


  27. Joel Johnson says:

    It’s cool, homies. I did imply that betavoltaics were a hoax – I didn’t do any research into the tech itself – but I was mainly just trying to point out that the idea that our laptop power issues are now instantly over is totally false. Which it is. So yay for learning!

  28. KeithIrwin says:

    I wouldn’t be too worried about beta particles being in your laptop. After all, a beta particle is just an electron (or in some case, but not in this case, a positron). Generally, it’s an electron moving at high speed, so you’d want to make sure it gets appropriately captured so that it doesn’t run amok, but still it’s pretty safe.

    Now, if you had alpha particles, that would be something to be worried about.


  29. Anonymous says:

    More info on the technology can be found here:


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