ASPIRE: Advanced Self-Powered sensor units in Intense Radiation Environments

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Interface Analysis Centre

Abstract

Addressing the UK's nuclear legacy is the largest, most important environmental remediation programme in Europe, with estimated expenditure of £115 billion over the next 120 years. A significant proportion of this cost is associated with decommissioning and management of high and intermediate level radioactive waste; material that is too radioactive for direct human handling. There is therefore a need for remotely operated, waste characterisation technologies to enable monitoring of such wasteforms in their interim and final storage locations.

Due to the extreme radiation fields present, retrospectively fitting sensors that rely upon cables for power and data transmission is not feasible and hence alternative technologies for powering sensors are required. Our project will seek to address this challenge by developing a solution using advanced diamond materials to harvest energy from radioactive decay to power small, portable devices containing multiple sensors that pass data over wireless networks.

There are clear benefits for the technology including: less wiring, less maintenance, less dose to operators and an extended lifespan of sensors or mobile platforms. The sensors powered by such devices would be able to provide information for long periods of time that would otherwise be challenging to gather but none the less very important for long term safety cases. Therefore, this technology could represent a significant financial saving for UK plc. By the end of the project we would aim to demonstrate this technology by: (i) deployment in active plant at Sellafield; and (ii) deployment in a reactor core at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, Japan.

Planned Impact

The technology developed in this proposal will be of significant benefit to the UK nuclear industry by delivering two potentially new and game-changing technologies that may translate as operational cost savings for nuclear facilities monitoring through enhanced efficacy, safety and reduced maintenance (therefore reduced worker dose). The project will also deliver indirect benefits, including translation of the beta-voltaic technology for sensors/devices using in space technology, earth observation (high altitude pseudo-satellites) and overall leading to resource sustainability (i.e. recycling of 14C from nuclear graphite waste to make power cells), improved public image and opportunities for commercialisation. Further impact will be realised by the Environment Agency and BEIS during future assessment of new technological approaches for energy generation, harvesting, storage and transmission. Additionally, in the international research community, this project offers the continued development of world-leading research transferring know-how and experience from the particle physics, chemistry, electronic engineering and materials science communities into the civil nuclear research community. Wider than the nuclear sector, here is a need to develop advanced communication systems and energy capturing technologies so that the sensors can be powered and transmit signals in other types of inaccessible locations. Accordingly, there is likely to be significant academic interest in each individual work package along with the wider project.

Publications

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Ali K (2020) An Orientation-Independent Multi-Input Energy Harvesting Wireless Sensor Node in IEEE Transactions on Industrial Electronics

 
Description We have achieved the following
(1) Made an ultra-long life burst behaviour sensory unit using a 'voltage-less' monitoring circuit for the trickle charging of a low-leakage ceramic capacitor, to periodically operate a working sensor circuit and integrated low power bluetooth transmitter - this sensory unit has now been demonstrated whilst powered by a 3 cell diamond gamma-voltaic and also with a beta-light-voltaic.
(2) We have grown the first ever C-13 diamond using both closed loop and static growth chemical vapour deposition (CVD).
(3) We have also made the world's first ever working stack of gamma-voltaic devices for directly converting nuclear energy into electricity. Our work at the Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility has demonstrated a change in voltaic resistivity with increasing gamma photon energy. Optimal power (I/V) performance was observed at an energy of ~700KeV, which is close to the 662 KeV emitted by Cs-137; the primary gamma emitting isotope in nuclear fission waste.
(4) We have grown our own diamond diode beta voltaic devices and demonstrated them working with a C-14 beta source to generate power.
Exploitation Route Our technology will make a substantial advancement for the deployment of sensors in remote or extreme environments. This will have application in satellites, HAPS, IoT, defence technologies and even medical devices such as pace-makers and hearing aids. We expect to apply for an EPSRC Programme Grant to continue the fundamental aspects of research, whilst a company (Arkenlight Ltd) is being prepared for spinout that will have an initial shareholding from the University of Bristol and UKAEA.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Construction,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Security and Diplomacy,Transport

 
Description A summary of how the findings from your award are impacting the public: When we released the concept of 'diamond batteries' we did this via a news article with a short 2 minute explanatory animation. There was also a coupled innovation lecture on the diamond batteries and ASPIRE project as part of the University of Bristol Cabot Institute annual lecture event. Our news story and associated idea of recycling nuclear graphite waste to make long-lasting power cells was evidenced as reaching over 12 million people. The response we had from the public was nearly overwhelming as several thousand people sent in their ideas via email and twitter for what applications we could and should use the diamond battery technology in the future. Through reaching so many people we hope to have shown them an alternative idea for nuclear energy which is sustainable because it could recycle nuclear waste for positive benefit to society. This is certainly evidenced by the responses we got from the public. Challenges overcome to achieve impact We are now planning the formation of a spin-out company for manufacturing the diamond batteries. Our industrial advisory board have backed our proposals and we plan to spin-out in July 2020 after the end of the ASPIRE project. The chose route of manufacture for the first devices is via tritium infusion. Hence the major challenge is to acquire sufficient funding to create, commission and test a tritium infusion system working closely with the UKAEA's H3AT facility at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Energy
Impact Types Societal

 
Description AWE summer internship project on modelling of neutron interactions with isotopic diamond wafers
Amount £5,000 (GBP)
Organisation Atomic Weapons Establishment 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2018 
End 09/2018
 
Description ARM power on a chip applications 
Organisation ARM Holdings
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Advising ARM on the value and opportunity of adopting our diamond beta-voltaics onto their processor chips, providing direct and constant power (albeit a very low current feed). ARM have identified a significant opportunity in the IoT field for our technology.
Collaborator Contribution The have attended Industrial Advisory Board meetings, made personal visits to discuss a potential project on growing diamond beta-voltaics directly onto their chip sets. We have also had support from ARM to select a sensory module from Texas Instruments and Low power Bluetooth transmitter incorporating ARM technology.
Impact No significant outputs as yet.
Start Year 2017
 
Description AWE - Disruptive technologies collaboration 
Organisation Atomic Weapons Establishment
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have been working with the AWE as collaborators providing them with intelligence about new sensor technologies arising from the grant. Specifically AWE have been engaging on the development of low power sensor pobs for monitoring temperature, humidity and radiation intensity.
Collaborator Contribution The have attended Industrial Advisory Board meetings, provided contacts within BEIS and established a side project on sensor developments for monitoring storage environments at the Aldermaston site. We have been advised that they will let us deploy our sensor units on the Aldermaston site as a significant demonstration of the technology. They have also provided access to their advanced SIMS capability to make quantification of Boron in the diamond films we've been making.
Impact This partnership has led to us developing a PCB version of our prototype sensor pod technology that will be purchased and deployed by the AWE as a prototype demonstration. The project has been inherently cross-disciplinary involving electronic engineers, device physicists and materials scientists.
Start Year 2017
 
Description AWE high energy imaging partnership 
Organisation Atomic Weapons Establishment
Department National Nuclear Security Programme
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution For the AWE we have been providing expertise on laser-driven gamma and neutron pulses as well as novel fast neutron imaging technologies using Diamond with a scintillation backing material. We are also supporting them in the establishment of a national high energy imaging facility.
Collaborator Contribution The AWE have co-funded a Royal Academy of Engineering professorial fellowship for me to run for 5 years until February 2021. This is a financial contribution of £50,000 per year, plus additional funding specifically for projects and secondments of members of my team.
Impact Outputs have inlcuded: - A modelling study report on the use of diamond for fast neutron imaging - Conducting a joint experiment at the LANSCE neutron facility in the USA to test deuterium infused diamond with a scintillator backing material as a fast neutron imaging material. - Undertaking a deuterium infusion study of diamond (at the AWE) to determine the deuterium (H-2) solubility as a function of pressure and temperature. The collaboration is ongoing and we will conduct further experiments in the next 12 months.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Cavendish-Babcock 
Organisation Cavendish Nuclear
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Providing information and updates on the gamma and beta voltaic technologies as part of the ASPIRE project as well as the wide nuclear robotics research hub grants.
Collaborator Contribution 2 days per year (£1600 est.) for expert advice, consultancy and attendance at the annual advisory board
Impact None as yet
Start Year 2018
 
Description Jacobs Engineering 
Organisation Jacobs Engineering Group
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Working with Jacobs in aspects of research related to extreme environment sensors and robotics for nuclear and space applications. Providing expertise and advice for Jacobs and also linking through to the NASA research programme (via Jacobs)
Collaborator Contribution Funding support for 4 MSc students, with an expectation for annual funding for 4 MSc students plus direct funding for other projects.
Impact A series of technical reports have been produced for Jacobs (4 in total so far) which have been fed into their US programme.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Japan Atomic Energy Agency 
Organisation Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA)
Country Japan 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The grant award has led to the establishment of a strategic partnership with the JAEA based around fallout and fuel debris analysis. There has been an MoU signed by both institutions to permit collaboration, exchange of personnel and samples. Subsequently, the remit of the MoU has been widened (2019) to include joint work on diamond battery (ASPIRE) technology, high dose-rate diamond detectors and radiation mapping robots. We have contributed expertise, consultancy, shared data recorded from Japanese samples and sites and have won several experimental sessions at the Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility for fallout particle analysis. JAEA colleagues have participated in all of our UK synchrotron experiments and participated and presented at UK workshops and conferences e.g.
Collaborator Contribution Already we have had over 15 visits from the JAEA since the start of the partnership as well as a suite of fallout samples from Fukushima and access to nuclear fallout storage sites and other restricted areas of the Fukushima fallout zone. The site access and samples provided are extremely valuable.
Impact Several joint publications. Widening of the relationship to cover other areas such as radiation detection, UAVs and most recently diamond batteries.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute (KURRI) 
Organisation Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute
Country Japan 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have been working with KURRI as our project partners to utilise their test reactor and Co-60 irradiation facility in Osaka to (I) neutron activate C-13 diamond samples and (2) utilise the irradiator facility to test our gamma voltaic prototype devices. As part of this we have modelled neutron irradiations of our diamond wafers in their reactor core.
Collaborator Contribution The have attended Industrial Advisory Board meetings in person and by Skype. They have also provided access to their Co-60 irradiator and have already deployed one set of test samples in their reactor core for neutron irradiation. They have provided VERY substantial in-kind support by providing this unique access.
Impact Access to a test reactor! We don't have one in the UK so this is a very significant outcome. What is even more substantial is that we don't have to pay for access.
Start Year 2017
 
Description NAMRC on atomic powered sensors 
Organisation University of Sheffield
Department Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are providing the Nuclear AMRC with prototype gamma-voltaic and beta-light-voltaic powered sensor units for deployment on Sellafield site. In the first phase of the programme we are providing 3 prototypes but in the second phase we will received more substantial funding to develop more advanced sensor units.
Collaborator Contribution NAMRC have provided the opportunity to deploy prototype sensor units at Sellafield site up in Cumbria. They have also provided direct funding for a small set of demonstrator prototypes.
Impact Too early at this stage.
Start Year 2019
 
Description RWM Ltd 
Organisation Nuclear Decommissioning Authority NDA
Department Radioactive Waste Management
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Providing information on the ASPIRE project and designing prototype sensor pods which might be suitable for deployment in a geological disposal facility to provide ultra-long life monitoring capability.
Collaborator Contribution Attendance at Industrial Advisory Board meetings, introductions to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and advice on graphite fission wastes that might be of potential value to the ASPIRE project. Another significant contribution has been RWM getting the ASPIRE academics involved as partners on the IAEA working group on graphite nuclear wastes (GRAPA). The group meets every 6 months in Vienna and have a keen interest in the ASPIRE technology.
Impact None as yet
Start Year 2017
 
Description Sellafield - link for diamond devices 
Organisation Sellafield Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Development of an ASPIRE sensor pod for demonstration deployment at the Sellafield site, ultimately targeted for deployment in a nuclear waste store. The ASPIRE sensors are being designed specifically (with input from Sellafield) for nuclear deployments in the extreme radiation environments of Intermediate and High-level nuclear waste stores.
Collaborator Contribution Sellafield have been instrumental in a number of ways: (1) Providing industrial support for a PhD student aimed at developing the gamma-voltaic aspect of the ASPIRE technology, (2) Direct negotiation with the Regulator (ONR) and BEIS on commercialisation and legislation of the technology, (3) Attendance at Industrial Advisory Board meetings, (4) Advice on graphite wastes from fission power that might be most suitable for processing to recover C-14 for the ASPIRE beta-voltaics and (5) Developing opportunities for on-site demonstration deployments of the ASPIRE prototype sensor pods before the end of the project.
Impact This collaboration is inherently multi-disciplinary - involving materials scientists, electrical engineers and physicists. Already an outcome is that we have facilitated Sellafield being directly involved with the shaping of the Culham H3AT facility. Further significant outputs are planned once further patents are filed.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Toshiba - diamond batteries link 
Organisation Toshiba Research Europe Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have afforded Toshiba a first look at our diamond battery technology for use in Japan and for communications technologies.
Collaborator Contribution They have attended Industrial Advisory Board meetings, provided recommendations as to applications of our technology and which Bluetooth and RF communications devices to use (as the lowest power consumption options).
Impact No significant outputs to date.
Start Year 2017
 
Description UKAEA Culham Centre for Fusion Energy 
Organisation Culham Centre for Fusion Energy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This is quickly establishing as a very significant new partnership, based around the beta and gamma voltaic devices made by my team in Bristol. We have conducted a significant body of neutronics modelling to calculate neutron activation of C-13 diamond and have made, for the first time, a C-13 diamond film created using closed loop CVD diamond growth (another first). Pure C-12 or C-13 diamond has a substantially higher thermal conductivity than normal/natural diamond and may provide an ideal coating materials for sensors or wall-bricks used inside existing and future fusion reactors.
Collaborator Contribution CCFE have funded a PhD at Bristol (matched with EPSRC DTA funding) starting in summer 2018. Bristol has matched this with a further studentship on isotopic diamond for plasma facing material coatings. CCFE have also helped us with access to the Materials Research Facility and have helped us identify a new route for creating diamond beta voltaic devices using tritium as the beta power source. Finally and most substantially they have sought and gained funding (~£35M) for the establishment of the H3AT facility for the processing and recovery of tritium and C-14 from irradiated reactor core graphite. We have been involved in the scoping of H3AT and continue to be involved as key stakeholders to ensure that the capability of the H3AT facility is suitable for providing an isotopic feedstock for the commercial production of our beta-voltaic devices.
Impact As stated above the funded studentship and the H3AT facility are very substantial outputs.
Start Year 2017
 
Title Diamond-based beta and gamma voltaic micro-power devices 
Description As per United Kingdom Patent Application No. 1707486.5, this patent was simultaneously filed in the US. 
IP Reference US Provisional Patent Application No. 62/504,012 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2017
Licensed No
Impact None as yet - we've tried to keep this technology commercially quiet due to further filings in process.
 
Title Diamond-based gamma and beta voltaic energy devices 
Description A process for the production of small low current atomic power cells made from diamond wafers. For the gamma voltaic the power is generated by harvesting an incident gamma flux and for the beta voltaic the device is impregnated with a beta emitting isotope (tritium, C-14 or Be-10). 
IP Reference GB1707486.5 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2017
Licensed No
Impact None as yet apart from weekly approaches from companies for this technology
 
Description #Diamond Battery activity 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A public engagement campaign which has reached over 12 million people. Initially launched as a concept at the Cabot annual innovation lecture by Prof Tom Scott, the programme of public outreach around the diamond battery has sold the concept of recycling valuable isotopes from nuclear waste to make micro-power cells with a 5000 half life. As a major activity we made an animated video and posted it on the internet. It went viral and attracted millions of views world wide. This led to dozens of media (TV, Radio, internet) interviews and news stories across the world. It also led to VERY substantial industrial interest which continued even today.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
URL http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2016/november/diamond-power.html
 
Description 'The Next Curie' collaboration with The Belgian Nuclear Forum. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was an outreach collaboration with the Belgian Nuclear Forum, the professional association of Belgian nuclear companies. They have an annual campaign for promotion of nuclear science and technology with a focus on start-ups and innovation. Their aim is to show to the Belgian public that nuclear is a dynamic technology with several innovative projects ongoing.

Our ASPIRE project was selected as an inspirational and innovative idea to present to the public via a large media campaign (related to the 150th anniversary of Marie Curie). They produced a news story and dissemination article which was shared as part of the event and surrounding promotion in the media.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description BB World Service Interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A radio interview with the BBC world service about the ASPIRE project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description EDF meeting on nuclear safety and security 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Meeting with EDF Head of Security for Hinkley Point C to discuss the use of sensor and robotic systems for site security and surveillance.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Widely viewed post by World Economic Forum on diamond battery technology 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact https://www.facebook.com/worldeconomicforum/videos/10154537251376479/
World Economic Forum Facebook post positively reporting diamond battery research with, to date, 8.9M views
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019,2020