MIT Researchers Develop Batteries from Viruses

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology may have created the ultimate green battery technology: They’ve engineered a virus that could potentially form a battery that would outlast and out power those available today.

The batteries could be used to power small electronic devices such as cell phones and MP3 players. In the future, they could also be used to power automobiles. The M13 virus used to create the batteries infects only bacteria, so it is harmless to humans.

The recent discovery builds upon research that was performed three years ago when an MIT team genetically engineered viruses that could build an anode by coating themselves with cobalt oxide and gold and self-assembling to form a nanowire. Traditional batteries have two anodes, a positive terminal (often made of cobalt oxide) and a negative terminal (often comprised of graphite).

Researchers at MIT took this research and focused on building a powerful cathode that could pair up with the anode. This was no easy task, but eventually the scientists were able to engineer the viruses to first coat themselves with iron phosphate and then attach to carbon nanotubes to create a network of highly conductive material. Electrons can travel along the carbon nanotubes to the iron phosphate networks very easy, thereby transferring energy in a very short amount of time.

Using these developments, the researchers created coin-sized batteries as seen in the photo above. According to lab tests, the batteries can be charged and discharged at least 100 times without losing any capacity. Although that’s fewer charge cycles than today’s lithium-ion batteries, materials scientist Angela Belcher said the expectation is that the batteries "will be able to go much longer."