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May - 2009 - issue > Tech Tracker
Virus Built Batteries to Power Phones and Cars
Eureka Bharali
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Batteries built with organic solvents may sound archaic after a point of time. The researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have shaped low cost batteries powered with virus, which are developed in an environmentally friendly way, without the use of any harmful solvents. These batteries are aimed at powering any electronic device ranging from cars, cell phones, and other devices including hybrid cars.

The prototype is packaged as a typical coin cell battery; however, the technology will enable building lightweight, flexible, and conformable batteries in the future. Experts believe that these new batteries made of virus have the same energy and capacity as other lithium batteries of the same size.

The virus for the batteries was genetically engineered to build an anode by coating themselves with cobalt oxide and gold and self-assembling to form a nanowire. Headed by Angela Belcher of MIT, the research team also focused on building a highly powerful cathode or the negative electrode to pair up with the anode. However, building a cathode required highly conductive materials, which was quite difficult to find. In a bid to overcome this hurdle, two researchers engineered viruses that first coat themselves with iron phosphate, then grab hold of carbon nanotubes to create a network of highly conductive material. They would then grow the positive and negative electrodes on opposite sides of a self-assembling polymer electrolyte developed by Paula Hammond, a researcher at MIT.

“These viruses are a common bacteriophage, which infect bacteria but are harmless to humans,” says MIT. They are made in water in room temperature. Analyzing the advantage of virus powered batteries, Daniel Morse, Professor of molecular genetics and biochemistry at the University of California said, “Using viruses to assemble inorganic materials can quickly scale up the manufacturing technique as they reproduce quickly. Moreover, this method will be less expensive than the current process of making battery materials.”
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