Batteries made of viruses can power cellphones to cars

April 3rd, 2009 - 11:57 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, April 3 (IANS) MIT researchers are relying on viruses to build futuristic low cost batteries that will power cars, cellphones and other electronic devices.
These new ‘viral’ batteries will match the most advanced versions being considered to power plug-in hybrid cars, besides powering electronic devices, said Angela Belcher, the MIT materials scientist who led the research team.

The new batteries could be synthesised at and below room temperature and require no harmful organic solvents, and the materials are non-toxic.

In a traditional battery, lithium ions flow between a negatively charged anode, usually graphite, and the positively charged cathode, usually cobalt oxide or lithium iron phosphate.

Three years ago, an MIT team led by Belcher reported that it had engineered viruses that could build an anode by coating themselves with cobalt oxide and gold and self-assembling to form a nanowire.

In the latest work, the team focussed on building a highly powerful cathode to pair up with the anode, said Belcher, MIT professor of materials science, engineering and bio-engineering.

Cathodes are more difficult to build than anodes because they must be highly conductive to be a fast electrode, however, most candidate materials for cathodes are non-conductive.

In a bid to overcome this hurdle, Gerbrand Ceder, MIT professor 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.

The viruses are a common bacteriophage, which infect bacteria but are harmless to humans, said an MIT release.

The prototype is packaged as a typical coin cell battery, but the technology allows the assembly of very lightweight, flexible and conformable batteries.

These findings have been described in Thursday’s online edition of Science.

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