Bug-Built Batteries Can Equal Lithium Ion’s Power

  by  |  April 7th, 2009  |  Published in All, Featured, Technology

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Researchers using genetically engineered viruses to build a better rechargeable battery have now shown that the technology can perform as well as commercially available high-power lithium-ion batteries, but can be produced using less energy and fewer toxic chemicals.

They built a prototype of the battery shown here powering an LED and tested it against other types of high-power batteries.

ScienCentral News first covered this promising research in 2005 (watch the video below).

The researchers, led by Angela Belcher, took advantage of the fact that viruses naturally synthesize, manipulate and assemble complex structures at the nano scale, and that some of the materials useful for making batteries are commonly used in living systems.

By using genetic engineering to tweak individual viral genes, the team can control what materials the viruses use and how they assemble and connect the parts. In 2006, they engineered a bacteriophage virus to attract gold and cobalt oxide and assemble them into its shell, producing an anode—the negative terminal of a battery.

In the latest work, they engineered viruses to build a cathode—the positive terminal— by getting the viruses to coat themselves with iron phosphate ions, then connect to nano-wires made of highly-conducting carbon nanotubes.

As they wrote in the April 2, 2009 online issue of the journal Science, unlike conventional high-powered batteries, which require high temperatures and chemical solvents, the virus-built process works at room temperature and uses water as its only solvent.

The technology also has the potential to be cheaper than current batteries, but the researchers say they are testing other materials such as nickel phosphate and manganese phosphate to enhance performance, and hope that next-generation version could go into commercial production.

"We’re not going to scale up this material… "It wouldn’t gain us anything in terms of performance, Belcher said in a press release.

MIT President Susan Hockfield showed off Belcher’s virus batteries (among other things) when she appeared at President Obama’s March 23 briefing calling for $150 billion in new clean energy and technology spending.

Here’s the original video report from 2005:

[If you cannot see the flash video below, you can click here for a high quality mp4 video.]

Interviewee: Angela Belcher, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Produced and Edited by James Eagan
Copyright © ScienCentral, Inc

Other ScienCentral News videos on Belcher’s work:

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