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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
quote:
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.

quote:
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
quote:
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.


"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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