Normally a virus is a bad thing for both your health and your technologies health. Not anymore. MIT is using viruses to build both the positive and negative end of Lithium Ion batteries.
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a genetically altered virus to create batteries. This new method will create cheaper rechargeable batteries for cars and electronics, while being nicer on the environment.
Today’s lithium-ion batteries send ions between a negatively charged anode and a positively charged cathode. Three years ago, the MIT researchers found that they could build an anode using viruses. The anode was comprised of cobalt oxide and gold. These viruses after coating themselves in cobalt oxide and gold then went on to assemble themselves into a nanowire.
Now those same researchers headed by Angela Belcher, Germeshausen Professor of Materials Science, Engineering and Biological Engineering, can now create the cathode portion of a lithium-ion battery using viruses. Creating both the anode and cathode by viruses makes batteries easy to build.
The viruses used are common bacteriophages that don’t infect humans. For the cathode, the viruses “coat themselves with iron phosphate, then grab hold of carbon nanotubes to create a network of highly conductive material.”
The carbon nanotube networks are able to transfer electrons from the electrodes to the iron phosphate core generating energy very quickly. By creating the network of carbon nanotubes, batteries can be lighter with more conductivity.
The research team wants to build better batteries that have “higher voltage and capacitance”. To do this, cathode assembly will be tried using materials such as manganese phosphate and nickel phosphate.
This nanoscale battery technology will allow batteries to be lightweight and to “take the shape of their container” rather than creating containers for the batteries opening up new possibilities for car and electronics manufacturers.
MIT’s battery research has already been displayed to President Obama at the White House by University President Susan Hockfield. President Hockfield and President Obama both advocated for federal funding for new clean technologies like virus built batteries.
Photograph of Angela Belcher by Donna Coveney