Researchers at MIT have managed to genetically engineer viruses so that they can build rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in the form of a plastic film. These new batteries could then be used in anything from cellphones to iPods to the rechargeable batteries in plug-in electric hybrid cars.
As an added bonus, the batteries can be constructed in an environmentally-friendly manner, avoiding toxic solvents and energy-intensive procedures:
“Because the viruses are living organisms, we had to use only water-based solvents, no high pressures and no high temperatures,” says Angela Belcher, a materials scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and a study coauthor.
Previously, the MIT research team developed a virus that could self-assemble into the negative end of a battery (the anode) by coating itself with cobalt oxide and gold. In a very similar manner, the new virus coats itself with iron phosphate and silver, creating the positive end of a battery (the cathode).
By engineering viruses to self-assemble into the anode and cathode ends of a battery, these new lithium batteries will also be able to be shaped into non-traditional forms using micro-contact printing.
The viruses used in this process are known as bacteriophages (a type of virus that infects species of bacteria), ensuring that the genetic engineering affects a type of virus benign to humans.