April 05, 2009
MIT Viruses Build Batteries

Biotech for nanotech.

For the first time, MIT researchers have shown they can genetically engineer viruses to build both the positively and negatively charged ends of a lithium-ion battery.

The new virus-produced batteries have the same energy capacity and power performance as state-of-the-art rechargeable batteries being considered to power plug-in hybrid cars, and they could also be used to power a range of personal electronic devices, said Angela Belcher, the MIT materials scientist who led the research team.

The new batteries, described in the April 2 online edition of Science, could be manufactured with a cheap and environmentally benign process: The synthesis takes place at and below room temperature and requires no harmful organic solvents, and the materials that go into the battery are non-toxic.

The lithium batteries in this case used iron phosphate.

To achieve that, the researchers, including MIT Professor Gerbrand Ceder of materials science and Associate Professor Michael Strano of chemical engineering, genetically engineered viruses that first coat themselves with iron phosphate, then grab hold of carbon nanotubes to create a network of highly conductive material.

This is just at the lab bench level and still a long way from production. However, once perfected this harnessing biological organisms to construct things at the level of individual molecules will enable the cheap production of materials that currently would be extremely difficult to make.

Longer lasting cell phone batteries would be a big convenience but batteries good enough to enable cheap electric cars is a greater prospect.

"We could run an iPod on it for about three times as long as current iPod batteries. If we really scale it, it would be used in a car," she added. Such scaling is not even close, Belcher cautioned.

Batteries are a more important technology than any one way to generate electricity. Better batteries will enable us to at least partially escape our dependence on liquid fossil fuels for transportation.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 April 05 10:50 PM  Energy Batteries

Wolf-Dog said at April 9, 2009 1:17 AM:

Is there a danger that these genetically engineered "construction viruses" can somehow mutate and become a deadly epidemic?

I prefer other nanotechnology methods that are more traditional.

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