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Gesundheit! A Common Virus Could Boost Lithium-Ion Batteries

scientists at MIT are developing lithium ion batteries based on a common virus, which could be used to power portable military equipmentNow here’s a sustainable technology turnaround: scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are reporting that a common virus is good for more than just making people sick. They are using the virus to  develop more efficient lithium-ion batteries, particularly ones that could be integrated into fabric. The high efficiency battery-fabric could be use to manufacture clothing that could power portable electronic devices.

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If you’re thinking of clothes that could double as power sources for cell phones and laptops, so is the U.S. military. Nowadays the typical soldier lugs around pounds of batteries, so the idea of high-performance combat uniforms that double as a power pack is very attractive.

Conventional Batteries and Fossil Fuels: So 2000-and-Late

Militarily speaking, fossil fuels and conventional batteries are the equivalent of fighting World War II on horseback.  In a word, quaint. The Pentagon is already on record with its insistence on freeing the military from dependence on fossil fuels, foreign or domestic, and on its need for new sustainable battery technology. The modern soldier is so electronically geared up that portable battery supply has become a critical stumbling block to military effectiveness.  Conventional batteries add needless weight to the stuff that soldiers need to lug around while doing their jobs and trying not to get killed, to say nothing of the logistical nightmare of supplying multiple types of batteries (especially to remote bases in unstable areas), along with the environmental impact of disposal. Super lightweight, flexible, wearable, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries mesh perfectly with the military’s increased use of renewable energy, especially portable solar power that can be harvested in the field.

Viruses and Lithium-Ion Batteries

The MIT scientists have been working with a virus called M13 bacteriophage. This little critter has an outer coat of protein that protects its genes, and it can serve as a template for preparing the anodes and cathodes(the two electrodes that convert chemical energy to electricity in a battery).  The virus “biotemplate” can enable the development of new cathodes made from an iron-fluoride material. That can be done at room temperature in a water-based process, rather than conventional processes that rely on harsh chemicals. The new cathodes also reduce the risk of flammability in lithium-ion batteries, because they operate at lower temperatures.

Image: Disposable batteries by EvelynGiggles on flickr.com.

 
 
 
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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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