Print 45 comment(s) - last by Boze.. on Apr 7 at 11:17 AM

Virus Battery  (Source: MIT)
Virus battery is expected to last longer than current lithium-ion batteries

The battery is one of those ubiquitous devices that most of us use in our everyday lives and never think much about. Everything from your car to your notebook to your cell phone uses a battery of some sort. With the need to move to greener methods to power vehicles, much research is being conducted on technologies that will make batteries better.

A group of researchers from MIT has announced that they were able to construct a battery using a common type of virus that is not harmful to humans called a bacteriophage. Angela Belcher, lead researcher on the team said that the new battery could one day be used to power electronics and even electric cars.

The battery was described in the April 2 online edition of Science. According to the researchers, the battery could be produced cheaply and would be environmentally benign thanks to the fact that the process can be produced at below room temperature and requires no harsh organic solvents and the materials used in the battery construction are non-toxic.

Materials used in traditional lithium-ion batteries can’t claim to be environmentally friendly. In a traditional battery, the negatively charged anode is typically made form graphite and the positively charged cathode is usually cobalt oxide or lithium-ion phosphate.

MIT reports that three years ago, Belcher led a team that was able to construct an anode from viruses. The viruses were coaxed into coating themselves with cobalt oxide and gold. After the coating process, the viruses assembled themselves into a nanowire.

The latest announcement comes after the team was able to complete what the researchers say is the more complicated process of building a powerful cathode to pair up with the anode. Cathodes are reportedly more difficult to build because they have to be highly conducting, but most materials appropriate for a cathode are highly insulating.

Members of the research team were able to create the cathode by genetically engineering viruses that coat themselves with iron phosphate and then grab carbon nanotubes to create a network of highly conductive material.

The viruses are engineered to bind to specific materials only. The carbon nanotubes in the team's cathode and each iron phosphate nanowire can be electrically connected to a conducting carbon nanotube network allowing electrons to travel through the nanotube networks and transfer energy in a short time.

The researchers say that adding the carbon nanotubes to the battery adds very little weight and increased the cathode’s conductivity. The researchers say that in experiments the cathode material could be charged and discharged at least 100 times before losing its capacity. The team points out that 100 cycles is less than current lithium-ion batteries, but the virus-powered batteries are expected to last longer between charges.

A prototype battery was packaged into a standard coin battery form factor and used to power an LED light. The prototype was shown to President Obama when MIT President Susan Hockfield talked to Obama about the need for funding to advance clean-energy technologies.

The team says their next plan is to create a battery with materials offering higher voltage and capacitance like manganese phosphate and nickel phosphate. Once the next generation of virus battery is ready, they could go into commercial production. Researchers at MIT working on another project announced last month that they created a battery that could recharge in seconds.

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Interesting but..
By Cogman on 4/3/2009 12:04:16 PM , Rating: 2
Whats its energy density? Or at very least that maximum predicted energy density. Right now, batteries just aren't able to carry enough juice to be viable for applications like electric cars. Li-Ion has the biggest energy density that I know of, however I would be all in favor of any other process that give a higher energy density then Li-Ion

(90 miles in not a sufficient range for where I live. I need something along the lines of 150-200 or else I'll be spending days getting to places because I have to stop frequently to charge the battery)

RE: Interesting but..
By invidious on 4/3/2009 12:19:31 PM , Rating: 2
Energy density is more of a functional issue. This article is more about the environmental solution. Existing batteries are essentially toxic waste once you are done with them. And yes this should get you thinking about how eco friendly those hybrid cars.

RE: Interesting but..
By nosfe on 4/3/2009 12:24:14 PM , Rating: 4
yep, i've been assured by an Umbrella Corp. representative that the virus in this one will be very eco friendly and not toxic at all, you can even drink it and won't hurt you at all

RE: Interesting but..
By rdeegvainl on 4/3/2009 12:39:11 PM , Rating: 2
you do know that umbrella corps already went under don't you? Even they are subject to the economy.

RE: Interesting but..
By Jedi2155 on 4/3/2009 5:02:56 PM , Rating: 2
Thats why WilPharma will save the day!

RE: Interesting but..
By jadeskye on 4/5/2009 6:47:14 AM , Rating: 3
The zombie business just isn't as lucrative as it once was.


RE: Interesting but..
By michaelmsr on 4/3/2009 2:30:46 PM , Rating: 2
Infectious maybe, but I am more curious about what would happen if you sneeze on one?

RE: Interesting but..
By BusterBluth on 4/5/2009 9:01:11 PM , Rating: 2
No it's ok, Tricell will take care of that now.

RE: Interesting but..
By porkpie on 4/3/2009 6:42:04 PM , Rating: 2
Energy density is more of a functional issue
For a battery, it (and cost) are the two basic issues. If a battery has a very low power density, its basically worthless.

Existing batteries are essentially toxic waste once you are done with them
Hm, considering the carbon and lithium in those batteries came out of the ground to start with, I'm not terribly concerned about putting it back in when I'm done with the battery.

RE: Interesting but..
By Zshazz on 4/3/2009 11:38:36 PM , Rating: 2
Lithium can be (and is, actually) toxic for the environment. And it isn't as simple as just digging a hole and throwing it in to solve. You'll never hear any of the smug "green car" drivers admit anything of the sort, of course...

In any case, this is kinda nice for a "green" product, but, like you said, cost & battery densities are important. There's only so much you can charge for smugness.

RE: Interesting but..
By giantpandaman2 on 4/5/2009 11:52:35 AM , Rating: 2
Wow, I never knew recycling of car batteries was that hard or rare. Oh wait, it isn't.

RE: Interesting but..
By Boze on 4/7/2009 11:13:44 AM , Rating: 2
Because every single battery in the United States gets recycled, without flaw or exception...

RE: Interesting but..
By MozeeToby on 4/3/2009 2:23:58 PM , Rating: 2
Li-Sulfur has a slightly better energy density but is still the the testing phases. Li-ion with nano-material anodes and cathodes are possible and are being researched which could produce up to 10x better density I believe.

900 miles on a charge would make electric vehicles go from novelty to almost necessity for medium/long trips. I know I'd love to drive back home to see family (I live out of state now) and never have to worry about stopping (well, until my wife's dime sized bladder fills up anyway).

RE: Interesting but..
By Starcub on 4/3/2009 4:01:32 PM , Rating: 2
Li-Sulfur has a slightly better energy density but is still the the testing phases. Li-ion with nano-material anodes and cathodes are possible and are being researched which could produce up to 10x better density I believe.

Energy density is a function of the storage medium itself right? How will nano-wire terminals give better energy density?

When I read the article, it seemed like they were looking to combine this tech with new storage devices to provide the kind of improvements you're talking about.

RE: Interesting but..
By MozeeToby on 4/3/2009 4:39:02 PM , Rating: 2
Power Density in terms of Mass or Volume is determined by the medium as well as how large the anode/cathode has to be in order to absorbe a given amount of the medium.

Nano-materials would allow for much smaller and lighter anodes and cathodes because the surface area would be much, much higher than is standard now. This frees up more weight and volume for more of the medium, without changing the dimensions of the battery. Currently, Li-Ion batteries are only about 8% their theoretical maximum power density, with nano-materials you can get into the 90s.

RE: Interesting but..
By phxfreddy on 4/6/2009 1:22:21 AM , Rating: 1
I wonder what Dear Leader thought of it ?

uh uh uh ... I want to thank myself.

not dangerous to humans
By tastyratz on 4/3/2009 6:09:35 PM , Rating: 2

is it dangerous to anything else? A virus has to feed on SOMETHING living by nature.

The article doesn't seem to mention it. I would hate to see these batteries become really popular if it actually is normally a virus that targets kittens and puppies.

RE: not dangerous to humans
By Fritzr on 4/3/2009 7:49:57 PM , Rating: 2
They did state it's food source. Bacteriophage means it is a virus that infects bacteria ... literally a bacteria eater.

RE: not dangerous to humans
By dardas on 4/3/2009 8:02:00 PM , Rating: 4
A virus is not exactly a living thing. it does not need to eat.
in simplistic terms, a virus is just a piece of RNA or DNA coated in a protein. if it enters a living organism's cell it inserts it's code into the cell's genome and re-writes it to produce more viruses.
that's all.
it does not need to eat,breath,reproduce.
some viruses target bacteria cells. some target plants, other target fungi, some target animals. the amount of viruses that can actually target humans and cause disease is minuscule.

RE: not dangerous to humans
By rudolphna on 4/3/2009 9:48:37 PM , Rating: 3
yes, and they certainly do not control it. I just like the word- bacterophage. fun to say.

RE: not dangerous to humans
By porkpie on 4/3/09, Rating: -1
RE: not dangerous to humans
By dardas on 4/4/2009 6:39:59 AM , Rating: 4
i'm sorry, but you are mistaken. viruses have NO METABOLISM. so there's no possible way of "eating". since "reproduction" indicates involvement of reproduction mechanisms, and viruses do not have any - they do not reproduce. they merely "replicate". in essence, the host cell is the one doing all the reproduction with it's own metabolic system.
now, about humans... well surely you can always take the word "simplistic" and abuse it to hell and back. what matters is that a virus really has no internal metabolitic elements, no complex cell structures etc.. just a dna/rna molecule, sorrounded by a simple protein barrier, and sometimes has a further more complex shell - that is usually derived from the host cell's membrane.

surely you can pick up a biology book, or at least Wikipedia?

RE: not dangerous to humans
By porkpie on 4/4/09, Rating: -1
RE: not dangerous to humans
By samoya22 on 4/4/2009 3:28:32 PM , Rating: 2
According to the USDA:

In a sense, viruses are not truly "living," but are essentially information (DNA or RNA) that float around until they encounter a suitable living host.

RE: not dangerous to humans
By Boze on 4/7/2009 11:17:52 AM , Rating: 2
Okay, you've been proven wrong twice. Unless you possess a biology-related degree or can provide some references contrary to all modern scientific understanding of viruses, its time to just admit you're wrong and move on with your life.

You'll be a better person for it, having learned humility, and we won't think you're stupid. Its a win-win.

By James Wood Carter on 4/5/2009 8:40:54 PM , Rating: 1
Not true, viruses are "molecular machines" made of protein and a form of nucleic acid. By themselves they have no capability to replicate, they require a host. Viruses hijack host machinery such as protein production and nucleic acid replication. This is also true when refering to prions and transposable elements. Viruses are non-living biological entities. Though that is starting to be less black and white.

RE: not dangerous to humans
By FITCamaro on 4/4/2009 7:05:48 PM , Rating: 2
Well that doesn't necessarily mean it isn't harmful to humans. And viruses can mutate. There are plenty of bacteria in the human body needed for us to stay alive. Those in our stomach and colon for example.

I'm all for advanced technology. But any time someone starts talking about using viruses for certain things, I get a little edgy.

RE: not dangerous to humans
By Cogman on 4/5/2009 8:28:33 AM , Rating: 2
Do you realize how many viruses you are exposed to anyways? (the non-human infecting type). For the virus to mutate to be able to infect humans the bacteria would either have to resemble a human cell, or it would have to slowly mutate until it does. The thing is, Bacteria have VERY different DNA structures compared to human cell (Their DNA forms loops instead of being long strands). So to say that any bacteria resembles a human cell would be a very large stretch of the imagination.

The chances of it happening for a regular bacteriaphage are basically non-existent. Couple that with the fact that these viruses have been encoded to pickup and drop off material that isn't readily available in the human body and you have a virus that is very harmless.

There are too many movies that depict the end of the world in ways that are unbelievable (virus mutations, robots killing us all, ect).

RE: not dangerous to humans
By James Wood Carter on 4/5/2009 8:48:35 PM , Rating: 2
Totally agree, it is highly unlikely for a bacteriophage to gain all the mutations it needs to infect a totally different type of cells. Viruses such as H5N1 is having difficulty causing pandemics because they are highly unlikely of obtaining the mutations required to be higly infectous let alone a bacteriophage that needs multiple unlikely mutations.

RE: not dangerous to humans
By tmouse on 4/6/2009 8:20:11 AM , Rating: 2
But it is possible for it to mutate its host specificity and affect beneficial bacteria. A release could have unforeseen consequences. Nature seems to have a strong desire to constantly redefine itself, most of the time the random events are too few and far between to "stick" and the mutant dies out. Massive production could alter this balance. This may be a moot issue since I'm not clear if the viri are "viable" once coated, but after disposal they could be freed and then I'm not sure what the potential for unforeseen consequences would be.

By fatedtodie on 4/3/2009 11:45:43 AM , Rating: 3
So when the virus eats all our data and gains intelligence do we have to bow to it or what is the proper response to a virus overlord? Spit?

By JBird7986 on 4/3/2009 12:37:52 PM , Rating: 2

By TheNuts on 4/3/2009 1:27:49 PM , Rating: 5
You rang?

By Shadowself on 4/3/2009 5:16:50 PM , Rating: 2
Why are you stealing Maynard G. Krebs' line?

Exciting Stuff
By MrPeabody on 4/3/2009 11:49:54 AM , Rating: 5
The drive to build a better battery certainly is infectious.

RE: Exciting Stuff
By MozeeToby on 4/3/2009 2:50:14 PM , Rating: 5
Yeah, this new effort is nothing to sneeze at.

By Wierdo on 4/3/2009 5:33:11 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think that these are replacements for regular lithium batteries:

It's also nice that this group of researchers is collaborating with the other group that's working on the article posted earlier about faster charging batteries, progress is moving pretty rapidly in this area it seems, I guess the recent interest in improving battery technology is already bearing juicy fruit.

By Wierdo on 4/3/2009 5:36:02 PM , Rating: 2
typo: working on faster charging batteries that's been covered in an article posted earlier.

Really, the bbs needs an edit button :P

This is still toxic
By KGBird on 4/3/2009 6:57:56 PM , Rating: 2
The viruses were coaxed into coating themselves with cobalt oxide and gold.

Cobalt is THE toxic and most expensive material in Li-ion batteries. Many researchers working on batteries are trying to lose the cobalt.

RE: This is still toxic
By porkpie on 4/3/2009 7:08:00 PM , Rating: 2
Nope. Cobalt is fairly nontoxic (we actually need to ingest a small amount to stay healthy). It's also cheaper than lithium.

What you're thinking of is an oxide of Lithium Cobalt, used in battery electrodes.

By Acanthus on 4/3/2009 4:00:21 PM , Rating: 2
I did a summary of an article on this very topic 2 years ago. This must be some kind of follow-up... Unless MIT is recycling news.

Article is wrong
By porkpie on 4/3/2009 6:48:41 PM , Rating: 2
...requires no harsh organic solvents and the materials used in the battery construction are non-toxic
The article is wrong. The phages replace the anode of a LiIon battery only, the electrolyte is still a lithium salt in an organic solvent.

I don't blame you for getting it wrong, though, even the MIT press release misinterpreted the original paper.

By greylica on 4/3/2009 9:27:38 PM , Rating: 2
Picachu inside...

Wait for it...
By Audiosupernova on 4/3/2009 12:22:25 PM , Rating: 1
Hmmm...I distinctly remember the last dailytech article about batteries. Shall we take wagers on how long it takes before "garbageacc(x)" calls someone an "americunt"?

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer
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